If it seems like every time you turn on the television, you’re hearing about another mass shooting in the United States, it’s because you pretty much are. In 2015, there were 372 mass shootings in the US, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870 others, according to Mass Shooting Tracker, which defined a mass shooting as a single shooting incident that killed or injured four or more people including the assailant. It’s a topic that’s sparked national debate, and the inability to pass gun control legislation has been one of the great frustrations of the Obama administration. As November draws closer, lobby groups on both sides of the issue will undoubtedly raise their voices, but what are the facts versus emotional spin and where do the primary frontrunners stand? Get objective answers to 10 of the most frequently asked questions about gun control.
What is gun control?
Gun control refers to the laws and policies regarding the manufacture, sale, transfer, possession, modification and use of firearms. Sometimes people use the term when referring to limits of types of ammunition, magazines and technology, such as the type that only allows guns to fire when gripped by their owners.
Where do we currently stand on gun control on a federal level and in New York?
Under the National Firearms Act of 1934, civilians are restricted from owning machine guns, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, suppressors and destructive devices such as grenades and bombs. The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits selling a gun to people with criminal records and certain kinds of mental illness, drug addicts, minors, veterans who left the military with a dishonorable discharge, anyone with a permanent restraining order that keeps them from seeing a partner or a partner’s children and more. In 1994, Congress passed the Federal assault Weapons Ban which from 1994-2004 prohibited the sale of several types of assault rifles and large-capacity magazines, but the law was not renewed. Most recently in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects an individuals right to own firearms, a landmark decision that overturned a DC’s ban on handguns.
Obama has attempted to pass gun control measures several times with little success. In January, he passed a series of executive orders to try and lower gun violence. Under the order, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives requires anyone who sells guns at stores, gun shows or online to be licensed and conduct checks. It closed the gun show loophole, which allowed licensed dealers to sell guns from their own personal collections under the 1986 Firearms Owners’ Protection Act.
There are still holes, though, particularly with regards to mental illness. Only people who have been committed to a mental health institution via a court order are likely to be flagged for no-purchase during a federal background check.
At the state level, New York has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country. After the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012, New York passed the NY SAFE Act, which banned the sale of military style assault weapons such as the AR-15 long rifle used by assailant Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School, mandated New Yorkers who already owned assault weapons register them with police and barred people from fully loading magazines that hold 10 rounds. Most of the law was upheld in federal court in 2015, though the court ruled that regulating how many bullets can be loaded into a magazine was a violation of the Second Amendment. Connecticut upheld bullet limitations.
How much gun violence is in the US?
According to a report released by the CDC in December, the age-adjusted death rate for firearms, which includes homicides, suicides and accidental deaths, is 10.3 deaths per 100,000 people. For the first time in more than six decades, that is identical to the age-adjusted death rate for motor vehicle fatalities.
Where does the US compare to other countries in terms of mass shootings?
The US makes up 5 percent of the world’s population but between 1966 and 2012, accounted for 31 percent of the world’s public mass shootings (90 of 292 attacks worldwide).
What are arguments in favor of gun control?
Gun control advocates point to the statistics and argue that fewer guns will lead to fewer gun-related injuries and deaths. It’s a matter of safety, not necessarily disarming the entire public. Gun control advocates want limits imposed as to who can and cannot own guns and a more thorough system that better ensures that firearms are not winding up in the wrong hands.
What are arguments against gun control?
Those against gun control believe gun ownership is an individual right protected by the Second Amendment, which states: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Gun rights advocates say that means an individual right to gun possession, while gun control advocates say it means the people’s collective right, through a militia.”
They think, contrary to what gun control advocates say, that guns make society safer. They could cause criminals to think twice before victimizing someone, as that person may be armed, and allows victims to defend themselves if a criminal does act.
How often are guns used in self-defense vs. to commit a crime?
Data shows guns are used to commit a crime about 10 times more often as they are use in self-defense.
Is there anything both sides agree on?
Yes. Gun control is a highly divisive topic in the United States, but all Americans generally support universal background checks (85 percent) and preventing people with mental illness from purchasing guns (79 percent), according to a Pew Research Center poll of 2,002 adults conducted in July 2015.
If that’s the case, why is it so difficult to pass legislation?
“Why does nothing get done about gun control?” was one of the most Googled questions following a mass shooting in Oregon in October 2015. Since the Sandy Hook shooting, only one gun control measure has passed in Congress, and that was to renew a ban on plastic firearms that could bypass security checkpoints at airports. Measures that would expand background checks and prevent those on the terror watch list from being allowed to purchase firearms have been rejected. Why? The pro-gun lobby is a formidable. The most prominent group, the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.) which likes to say, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” has nearly 5 million members who give money to the Political Victory Fund that supports pro-gun politicians. If elected, those politicians tend to tow the line when voting on legislation.
Though both sides of the argument agree on background checks and mental illness, they’re split as to what the priority should be: protecting gun ownership or controlling it. According to Pew, 47 percent say that it’s more important to protect it, while 50% prioritize controlling it. These numbers are not much different than those recorded pre-Sandy Hook.
Where do the frontrunners stand?
Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders want to end sales to people on the terror watch list, domestic abusers and stalkers. They support the expansion of background checks and are against straw purchases, which is when someone buys a gun for someone who is prohibited from possessing one or for someone who does not want their name associated the purchase, and the Charleston loophole that allows a gun sale to be completed before a background check is fully completed. Clinton supports ending Internet sales and the repeal of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act which protects firearms dealers and manufacturers from being held liable if a crime is committed with their products. Sanders does not.
Ted Cruz holds an A+ rating from the N.R.A. He voted against legislation that would have expanded background checks in 2013.
In his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, Donald Trump said he was for a ban on assault weapons and a longer wait time on completing gun purchases, but on the campaign trail has supported Second Amendment rights. Trump endorsed a nationwide right to carry a concealed weapon and the elimination of all bans on guns and magazines, saying he believes law-abiding citizens should be allowed to any firearm they want.
John Kasich’s N.R.A. rating went from an F to an A in August 2015. He voted to decrease the gun-waiting period from three days to one in 1999.