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The phrase Gun politics refers to the views of different people within a particular country as to what degree of control (increased gun rights vs. greater gun control) should be enforced upon the private ownership and usage of firearms, and to what extent ownership influences crime and the balance of power between the individual and the state.
This article discusses these policies in a general sense. For more specific discussion of policy in specific locales, see:
- Gun politics in Australia
- Gun politics in Canada
- Gun politics in Finland
- Gun politics in the United Kingdom
- Gun politics in the United States
In summary, those who support greater restrictions on firearm ownership believe some subset of:
- that there is no fundamental right to own firearms
- that gun control legislation may reduce violent crime
- that guns are more dangerous to the owners than intended targets because most gun related deaths are a result of domestic violence, accidents and suicides
- that guns are often of little use as self defense for the typical owner because in the incidents where a hostile encounter with an armed criminal occurs, the criminal is usually more experienced and skilled with his/her weapon
- that even against unarmed criminals, the presence of a gun serves most often simply to escalate the likelihood and/or severity of violence
- that citizens have no need to own guns to protect themselves against crime, since this is the task of the government
- that citizens of First World countries today have no need to protect themselves against their governments if they are vigilant enough to confront government wrongdoing before violence is necessary, or that even if such a need should arise, it would be hopeless anyway to take up individual small arms against the sort of modern military technology that a government could bring to bear.
Those who favor maintaining or extending the private ownership of firearms believe some subset of:
- that owning firearms is a fundamental right
- that the government has no right to interfere with an individual's right to own firearms as long as the individual is not harming or intimidating fellow citizens
- that guns in the hands of the populace decrease crime
- that citizens have a right to self-protection
- that an armed populace decreases the overall risk of violent crime, because it provides a deterrent effect for criminals who cannot know whether their next prospective victim, or someone nearby, will turn out to be armed
- that law-abiding citizens have a responsibility to provide their own protection because governments cannot be held civilly or criminally responsible for failing to provide such protection
- That carrying firearms properly makes one safer, not less safe; for the same reason that police forces carry firearms
- that gun ownership protects citizens from the excesses of government, and provides the possibility of revolution, if necessary
Degrees of gun control
There are many areas of debate into exactly what kinds of firearms should be allowed to be privately owned, if any, and how and where they may be used.
In the United States, automatic rifles manufactured before May 19, 1986, are federally legal to privately own after paying a $200 transfer tax, getting approval from the local sheriff or chief of police, the ATF, submitting a photograph and fingerprints, and waiting around 6 months; although several states have decided to prohibit these sales altogether. In most US states however, one can buy many semi-automatic firearms over the counter if the buyer meets basic legal requirements, and after completing the proper paperwork and a criminal background check.
Internationally, many countries have an outright ban on automatic rifles, and some countries ban nearly all kinds of firearms.
Another hot issue is whether individuals are allowed to carry a handgun concealed on their person, even if it is perfectly legal and easy to own a pistol in general. In the United States another area of dispute is whether a requirement that all guns be registered constitutes a violation of the Second Amendment by making it easier for any hypothetical government which may wish to disarm the public to identify gun owners or simply a reasonable precaution similar to licensing of automobiles.
General discussion of arguments
Balance of power
Advocates for citizens having the right to bear arms often point to totalitarian regimes that passed gun control legislation as a first step of their reign of terror. The sequence is said to be gun registration, followed some time later by confiscation. Totalitarian style governments such as Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Communist regimes such as the U.S.S.R. and the People's Republic of China are all well known examples of this.
This does not indicate that gun control will necessarily lead to totalitarianism. United Kingdom, Australia and Canada have had such laws for many years without becoming totalitarian. However, it should be noted that registration of firearms in many democracies has led to confiscations of formerly legal firearms and the outlawing of the ownership of firearms to various degrees.
Some persons oppose registration of guns or licensing of gun owners because if captured, the associated records would provide military invaders with a means for locating and eliminating law-abiding (i.e. patriotic) resistance fighters. Location and capture of such records is a standard doctrine taught to military intelligence officers.
Main article: Guns and crime
Both sides actively debate the relevance of self-defense in modern society. Some scholars, e.g. John Lott, claim to have discovered a positive correlation between gun control legislation and crimes in which criminals confront citizens - that is, increases in the number or strictness of gun control laws are correlated with increases in the number or severity of violent crimes. Other scholars, e.g. Gary Kleck, take a slightly different tack; while criticizing Lott's theories as (paradoxically) overemphasizing the threat to the average American from armed crime, and therefore the need for armed defense, Kleck's work speaks towards similar support for firearm rights by showing that the number of Americans who report incidents where their guns averted a threat vastly outnumber those who report being the victim of a firearm-related crime. The efficacy of gun control legislation at reducing the availability of guns has been challenged by, among others, the testimony of criminals that they do not obey gun control laws, and by the lack of evidence of any efficacy of such laws in reducing violent crime. While the debate remains hotly disputed, it is therefore not surprising that a comprehensive review of published studies of gun control, released in November 2004 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was unable to determine any reliable statistically significant effect, pro or con, resulting from such laws, although the authors suggest that further study may provide more conclusive information.
The strongest evidence linking availabiity of guns to injury and mortality rates comes in studies of domestic violence, the most well known being the series of studies by Arthur Kellermann, although other slightly different studies have similar results. In response to suggestions that homeowners were at risk from home invasions and would be wise to acquire a firearm for purposes of protection, Kellermann tabulated domestic homicide figures in three cities over several years, and found that in fact the risk of a homicide was in fact higher in homes where a gun was present; his study led to the conclusion that the risk of a "crime of passion" or other domestic dispute ending in homicide when a gun was available was large enough to overwhelm any protective effect the presence of a gun might have against burglaries, home invasions, etc. In confirmation of this conclusion is his little-remarked upon finding that almost all the risk was limited to homes where a handgun was kept both loaded and unlocked, and therefore available for immediate use; apparently, the amount of time and effort required even to just remove a loaded gun from a locked cabinet was sufficient to allow tempers to cool enough to prevent a shooting.
Although Kellermann's papers themselves do not make any recommendations, they were immediately held up as support by the advocates of gun control, and decried as "Bad Science" by opponents of gun control. In fact, the papers themselves are fairly straightforward textbook examples of epidemiological risk assessment, and the findings are essentially what would be predicted a priori; the presence of any object with some degree of risk, no matter how small, will always increase the total risk. For instance, the presence of a swimming pool in the home can only increase the risk of death because it adds the risk of death by drowning; ownership of an automobile can only increase the risk of death because it adds the risk of death in an automobile crash , etc. The only way this type of study could have found a reduction in risk of homicide from the presence of a gun in the home would have been if the rate of homicidal home invasions would have been much greater than the rate of domestic violence; however, although domestic violence is actually not well studied, it is universally agreed that it is much more common than home invasion type crimes. In fact, Kellermann also tabulated the change in risk of homicide associated with other, purely defensive, means of protection, e.g. alarm systems , deadbolts, security doors , barred windows, etc., and in each case was able to demonstrate a very small decrease in risk of homicide, which would suggest that the effect of the presence of a firearm on the risk of death by home invasion would be of similar magnitude, much smaller than the additional risk of domestic violence related homicide which was seen.
More thoughtful critics of the work and its connection with calls for gun control point out that Kellermann's work does not address the overall question of the total risk or benefit of firearm ownership because it does not address any events occurring outside the house; and due to this limitation, assert that his result is really more of an indictment of domestic violence than of gun ownership. Even Kellermann himself includes in his paper several paragraphs referring to the need for further study of domestic violence and its causes and prevention. They argue that the vast majority of households which possess a gun are not at any risk for any form of domestic violence, making any increased risk from gun ownership related to this behavior totally irrelevant to most gunowners; and that restriction of the rights of the great majority for the protection of a few who might harm themselves is in keeping with neither the general tenor of United States law, nor the Second Amendment in particular. (However, it should be noted that the risk of domestic violence related homicide found in Kellermann's study cut across all subpopulations including both demographic variables such as race as well as others which might be considered more directly relevant, such as past history of violence, drug or alcohol abuse, or criminal record. Perhaps it is obvious to those in a relationship whether there is risk of domestic violence or not, but the data in the study was not able to make such a distinction. In this respect, the calls for further study of predictors related to domestic violence become even more important). Furthermore, they argue that it is not the government's place to prevent adult citizens of sound mind from indulging in anything risky; and that people are freely permitted to assume much greater risks, such as the aforementioned swimming pools and automobiles, skiing, etc. if they wish. However, it should be noted that Kellermann's paper begins by pointing out that people who would not otherwise own firearms for recreational or other purposes are being urged to acquire firearms specifically for protection of the home, and in this narrow context, his results demonstrate quite clearly that this is an erroneous strategy; whether prospective gun owners choose to follow this advice or not is their decision to make.
In the final measure, perhaps the most useful contribution of the Kellermann studies is to quantify the degree of risk for domestic homicide associated with gun ownership, in the context of the degree of risk posed by some of the other variables he included. Interestingly, the greatest risks are associated with factors such as renting a dwelling rather than owning, and/or living alone; these are not in themselves causes of homicide, obviously, but represent measurable results of deeper factors, e.g. lower socioeconomic strata, lack of roots in the community and personal connections, and general mental and emotional instability. In comparison, the risk associated with gun ownership was significantly lower. It was, however, statistically indistinguishable from the degree of risk posed by any member of the family having a criminal record, which most people would consider to be significant. This adds somewhat to the clarity of the picture of what factors go into domestic homicide, and should induce further studies of the subject.
Many advocates on all sides of the issue manipulate numbers, ie: lump gun deaths together, or segregate them according to intent. Broad categories of deaths are often broken down (by size):
- accidental death
- legal intervention
Gun control advocate's claims only impact causes 2 and 3, since after gun regulation, suicides typically do not decrease, they just select a different method. e.g. 
Many results indicated by the media, and many official reports, only indicate raw numbers or percentages, and then are often erroneously compared to previous reports. This does not take into account the growth of the population, and other factors. Typically a good number indicates incidences per thousand, or per hundered thousand.
Other numbers are often not factored into discussions. For example, in Australia knives are 2-3 times as likely to be used in robberies as a firearm.
The numbers of legal versus illegal firearms, in areas with laws legislating proper gun ownership, are also glossed over. For example, 90% of all firearm related homicides in Australia are committed with unregistered firearms (since the 1995 & 1996 regulations).
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