On February 14th, 2021, the anniversary of the Parkland mass shooting, Joe Biden spoke publicly to the nation and specifically requested the US Congress to pass what he called “common sense” gun control reform. The current Democratic platform and statements by party officials make it clear that gun control and restricting the current access to firearms in a multitude of manners is a top legislative priority. This is the wrong approach and serves only as a waste of the already severely limited political capital Democrats hold. In the middle of a global pandemic, as we face an infrastructure collapse, mass wealth inequality, and a climate crisis, America must focus on the more important issues. In fact, I argue that by focusing on the larger issues, gun violence and abuse will automatically reduce, at which point minimal additional legislation will be needed to solve the issue. Effectively, I argue that solving mental health issues and investing in communities is more effective than attempting to treat the repercussions of those issues that lead to violent crime.
The first of my two points for this relatively condensed argument will be that of why most gun control legislation does not work. On September 13, 1994, the “Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act'' was passed by Congress and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. It effectively banned civilian manufacturing of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines for these firearms. It expired on September 13, 2004. If the common talking points used by gun control advocates were followed, one would logically assume that the rate of mass shootings, firearm homicides, and lethality of gun crimes decreased during this period. The simple answer to these arguments is that they are wrong. Countless studies# have concluded that there was no appreciable difference in the rate of firearm homicides or lethality. In addition, no studies found any relation between the decrease in mass shootings during this time period to the ban. One of the greater effects that this ban had was causing the prices of assault weapons during this time to rise temporarily until manufacturers retooled. An AR-15 with a threaded barrel, bayonet lug, and greater than 10 round magazine was considered illegal during this ban. This is because the term “assault weapon” is a political term, not the classification of a weapon. Once a manufacturer retooled (incurring additional expense on the consumer) to remove features such as the threaded barrel and bayonet lug, the firearm was no longer considered an assault rifle, and thus was not considered illegal. An explainer published by the Socialist Rifle Association puts it best when saying, “In function, the law created an environment where manufacturers produced the same firearms with slightly different features, while artificially inflating the value of pre-ban models.” Attempting to reduce access to guns only restricts access to the wealthy. This is because restricting access to guns only causes manufacturers to invest in ways to get around the restrictions, which incurs considerable cost. Most gun legislation, for lack of a better descriptor, is classist and serves purely to prevent the nonwealthy from purchasing guns.
At times, the idea of an optional gun buyback (when the government offers to purchase specific types of guns to reduce their prevalence in the market) up as an addition to extensive gun control legislation. It is simply too difficult to effectively legislate such a massive program to attempt to define and buyback just 2.5–3.7 million rifles from just the AR-15 family of assault weapons. The legislation and most ideas simply do not work. Certainly, some degree of background checks are needed, but the current mainstream ideas are not the correct direction.
The second prong of this argument is that the true way to reduce gun violence is not in reducing access or banning certain types of firearms, but in addressing underlying socio-economic issues that may lead to heightened gun violence. One must remember that 60% of gun deaths are actually suicides. If politicians actually cared about reducing gun deaths, then they would first look into aggressively funding better social services that don't bankrupt people. Today in America, it can cost upwards of $1000 a night to be kept in a mental health ward if one is admitted. Many times, we see situations where mass shooters are labeled as people with severe mental health issues. Why then, is the solution to reduce gun ownership for all people? Why should solutions to the problem focus on removing people’s access to guns? Increasing people’s access to affordable mental health services would be far more effective than simply reducing their access to firearms as a whole. Certainly, if someone is deemed a risk to themselves, then preventative measures can be taken, but a blanket ban is a wrong direction.
Reducing overall violent crime does not simply mean reducing the prevalence of firearms on the street. World Bank studies have found that improving access to jobs and life skills is one of the largest factors contributing to the reduction of crime. There is no point in simply attempting to remove as many firearms from the hands of people without investing in the same communities in which crime is high. While stable job opportunities are low, healthcare costs exorbitantly high, and income inequality increasing, guns are simply a scapegoat. Instead of trying to blame crime and violence on guns, the government should take up the mantle of assisting communities in which they can identify these crimes as a prevalent issue.
If Joe Biden asks Congress to create a comprehensive gun control bill that fulfills many of the things he has deemed “common sense,” he will be wasting the very limited resources that the already razor-thin Democrat majority in Congress holds. Perhaps a laser-focused gun control bill could be a better choice, but it would be unlikely in today’s political climate. Congress must therefore focus on fixing the dilapidated infrastructure in the US, replacing our failing healthcare system, and actually addressing the wealth inequality in our country. Not only are those agenda items good policy in that they will automatically reduce gun violence, but they are also great politics and have far more backing behind them. Democrats must work to effectively legislate better policies that work towards reducing violence, not legislating an assault weapon ban that will do next to nothing in preventing gun violence.
Note: This article was written on March 17.