A national debate over gun ownership is heating up in America. One side has proposed that gun ownership should be much more difficult to obtain than it is presently and thereby limiting the number of people that own guns. An additional concern centers on assault rifles or high bullet volume pistols.
The other side is prepared to fight placing any more limits on gun ownership than there is currently. The national backdrop for these discussions includes a number of horrific mass shootings such as in Newtown, CT, and the fact that gun violence has been declining for more than twenty years. National rates of gun homicide and other violent gun crimes are markedly down from their peak in 1993, according to the Pew Research Center. Compared to 1993 rates, the peak of gun homicides, there has been a 49 percent decrease in gun homicides, even though the population increased during that time. The victimization rate for other violent crimes with a firearm, assaults, robberies and sex crimes was 75 percent lower in 2011 than in 1993. Violent nonfatal crime overall, with or without a gun, was down 72 percent since 1993. The majority of the declines in firearm homicide occurred in the 1990’s. The trend stopped in 2001 and resumed in 2007.
Although gun violence has declined dramatically, most Americans, 60 percent, believe that gun violence is higher now than 20 years ago. Fifty years ago, the U.S. gun homicide rate began to increase in the 1960’s, increased throughout the 1970’s and peaked in the 1990’s. The current decreases mean that firearm homicide rates in the late 2000’s are equal to those not seen since the early 1960’s. The declines in U.S. gun homicide rates means that gun suicides now account for six out of 10 firearms deaths, the highest share since 1981. A variety of researchers from different academic disciplines have studied the decline in firearm violence for years. In spite of the efforts of many researchers, no consensus has been reached as to why these declines have occurred. It is a fact that the U.S. has more civilian firearms both in total and per capita than any other country.
When compared to other developed democratic nations, the U.S. has a higher homicide rate and higher rates of gun ownership. Since the tragic mass shooting at Newtown, CT, the U.S. public is paying much closer attention to the issue of gun ownership. In spite of their tragic nature, mass shootings are a small percentage of shooting deaths overall. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, homicides that claimed three or more victims were less than 1 percent of all homicides from 1980 to 2008. Mass shootings did increase from 0.5 percent in 1980 to 0.8 percent in 2008. A Congressional Research Service report found that mass shootings over a 20 year period between 1982 to 2012, there were 547 deaths. The most recent figures indicate that in 2011 there were 31,672 gun deaths, and 19,392 of those were suicide. One international study that included 30 nations concluded that the decrease in gun violence in all western nations was connected to the decrease in adolescents in most developed nations.
Some have concluded that legal abortion has resulted in a drop in crime as there are fewer unwanted children. Still, no agreement among researchers has been articulated. The Center for Disease Control found that in 2010 there were 3.6 gun homicides per 100,000 people compared to seven gun homicides in 1993. In 2010, there were 11,078 gun homicides compared with 18,253 gun homicides in 1993. Men and boys make up the majority of gun victims at 84 percent, a rate five times higher than for females. Seventy percent of victims in 2010 were between the ages of 18 to 40 years old. In 2009, the rate of gun ownership was one gun per U.S. household, a rate that had doubled since 1960. It is not clear how many U.S. households currently own guns or how that number has changed over time.
The right to own a firearm is a constitutional right and something that many Americans hold as sacred. It seems unlikely that this fundamental right will be overturned. The constitution does not guarantee that anyone should own assault rifles or pistols with large volume clips. Given the mass shootings that have taken place, perhaps getting a firearm, especially an assault rifle, might require a rigorous examination of the buyer including a mental health history and examination.
Remember, all kids count.
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