Shoot to Kill
In the “Claremont Bubble,” it is easy to disregard crime and safety as issues not to be worried about. Despite the fact that the colleges have reported instances of theft, assault, indecent exposure and the sale of date rape drugs all within the last year, most students do not regularly feel the need to defend themselves from crime.
However, one mechanism for self-defense, gun ownership, has risen to the forefront of national discourse. This summer saw shootings across the United States. There were three fatal shootings in the month of August alone, and the city of Aurora, Colorado was at the center of media attention for weeks after James Holmes killed 12 and wounded 58 others at a midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises.
Some politicians and citizens point to these shootings as a clear indication of a need for tighter gun laws. Others argue that perpetrators will get hold of guns regardless of the law, so deregulating gun ownership would allow civilians to be better equipped to defend themselves.
Kyle Tanguay (CMC ’15) commented that even in states with more lax gun laws, tragedies can still occur, and that lowering gun control standards may not be the right solution.
“[Having looser gun control] didn’t work so well in gun friendly states like Colorado, where theatergoers were surprised by a gunman wielding an assault weapon. That also didn’t work in gun friendly Arizona…or in my own gun friendly home-state of Nevada,” said Tanguay.
CMC professor of Government Andrew Busch countered Tanguay’s opinion, arguing that since there is already an abundance of guns in the country, it easy for criminals to access weapons and tighter gun laws would be unlikely to achieve the goals of gun control advocates since, “law abiders will face the brunt of regulating guns.”
Moreover, Professor Busch highlighted that guns are an embedded part of our country’s mores. The Second Amendment ensures that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
Busch affirmed this sentiment, stating, “I think the government does not have the right to infringe on [peoples’] fundamental right to self defense.”
It is difficult to gauge whether increased gun regulation would deter shootings.
Tanguay advocates for outlaw[ing] assault weapons whose only practical purpose is killing large amounts of people.
“I think it’s only sensible to put heavier regulations and bans on things like assault rifles and ammunition, while also getting rid of concealed-carry laws,” said Tanguay. “If people who defend gun ownership use crime deterrence or self-defense as their rationale, there is no reason to support laws that allow folks to conceal this deterrent.”
Some have suggested establishing more comprehensive processes to ensure that citizens wishing to purchase weapons have a clean record.
“Licensing private gun ownership should be more precautionary with [rigorous] psychological tests. The government should study how the public is influenced by their surroundings.” said Andrew Nam (CMC’ 15).
But as the case of James Holmes demonstrates, this can be a complicated process.
Holmes, whose mass shooting was the deadliest in American history, graduated from University Of California, Riverside with honors and was enrolled in a selective graduate program at the University of Colorado. A UCR recommendation letter described him as contributing “a great amount of intellectual and emotional maturity” to the classroom.
While the Aurora shootings have sparked a national discourse on gun control, the 2012 presidential candidates have been noticeably silent on the issue.
Professor Busch points to the outcome of the 2000 presidential race to explain this silence.
“A lot of Democrats blamed Gore’s loss in [the] election on the push for gun control,” Busch said, “on the face of it there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference.” As a result, Obama has stayed quiet about the issue, fearing a loss of votes from swing states.
Yet even with politics aside, it is hard to deny the effect loose gun regulations have had on violent crime in the United States. The Economist recently reported that Americans are four times more likely to be murdered than in Britain and two thirds of these murders in America involve guns, whereas in Britain the figure is under 10 percent.
“My [nineteen year old] friend from home who has a couple of handguns is an example of why I’m on the fence about arms regulation,” said Kost Psaltis (CMC ‘15). “I would trust him with my life, because I know he’s responsible. Yet I don’t feel the same way about everyone, so neither side is comforting.”