3/14/2007

Washington DC Gun Ban Lifted

“A federal appeals court yesterday struck down the District's 30-year-old gun ban, ruling that the right to bear arms as guaranteed in the Second Amendment applies to individuals and not only to militias.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said he was "outraged" by the court's decision, which overturns a law that "has been unquestioned for more than 30 years."

"Today's decision flies in the face of laws that have helped decrease gun violence in the District of Columbia," he said. "The ruling also turns aside longstanding precedents and marks the first time in the history of the United States that a federal appeals court has struck down a gun law on Second Amendment grounds.” “


A federal court lifted Washington DC’s gun control laws, among the most restrictive in the nation, on the grounds that the Second Amendment applies to individuals. The mayor of DC, Adrian Fenty—a well liked, perceptive, and coherent leader—berated the decision and vowed to appeal. Now this may look like an unfortunate loss for the safety of our urban communities, however, I present to you a twist.
There is some consensus now (at least among the federal appeals court) that these laws are extra-judicial and encroach on the rights enumerated to you and I by the Constitution. Both sides presented legal arguments. However, what about the effectiveness of these laws? Its one thing to have a program work to provide for the security of its denizens and argue its legal merit, its totally another to have a program that has been proven ineffective to be upheld for such a long time (especially in light of the additional judicial concerns).
The DC gun ban was wholly ineffective in preventing firearm violence in Washington DC. In fact with one of the most restrictive programs in the nation, Washington DC is still among the most dangerous cities in the nation—worse yet it actually was the murder capital of the US on multiple occasions in the past 30 years, including 1991 when it saw more than 480 homicides. Communities with much more lax gun control laws exhibited far higher levels of safety and a far lower rate of firearm crime. Now, granted, this debate is very heated, and people often point out extremes in arguments—the Switzerland example comes to mind, in which the nation of Switzerland maintains among the most liberal gun policies in the world and endures some of the least gun crime in the world, but I want to present one of many possible arguments on the dynamic of gun-control.
Many believed that by restricting gun sales to law-abiding citizens, that there would subsequently be less guns on the street and hopefully less gun crime. This line of reasoning was proven wrong through years of empirical data. Indeed, even intuitively, it makes sense why strict gun control doesn’t work. To ban law-abiding citizens to get guns assumes that they commit most of the gun crime. On the contrary, citizens fitting that description commit a disproportionately smaller number of gun crimes. In addition the policy is based on the assumption that the guns would conceivably disappear from communities, but yet again, a misguided assumption rears its ugly head. The demand for guns has changed little, and in some urban locales, it has increased precipitously.
Gun control laws of the sort that Washington DC codified more than 30 years ago, deprive private citizens of any personal security. Evildoers can safely bet that their targets are unarmed, and thus continue to ravage the very urban communities that the law aimed to protect. In addition, the rise of the underground gun market is startling in Washington DC, and highlights one negative byproduct of a gun control law that admittedly was well intentioned, but sadly, ill thought.
The most prudent way to strike at gun-crime would be to facilitate information-swapping with differing jurisdictions, ensuring security in the gun purchasing system, implementing zero tolerance policies toward illegal gun possession, and finally attacking the demand side of the gun market while continuing to identify and eliminate the suppliers in the underground market………

4 comments:

cody said...

"To ban law-abiding citizens to get guns assumes that they commit most of the gun crime..."

Oh those law-abiding citizens who break laws, how deliciously ironical of them...

Seriously though, gun control was never about preventing law-abiding citizens from owning guns because they were going to commit crimes with those guns. The Second Amendment was ratified at a time when the newly born American nation was in a very fragile state; allowing "the people to keep and bear arms" was considered a necessity for the protection of the very existence of America. Not only did such ownership give citizens the right to defend themselves from external threats (i.e. the British), but the Second Amendment also guaranteed that citizens would always have the power to oppose their own government. That is, should the federal government of the United States ever become so tyrannical as to threaten the livelihoods of its citizens (a very familiar theme still fresh out of the Revolutionary War), those citizens should have the right to defend themselves. Not coincidentally, the language of the amendment explicitly mentions "militias," and the right to bear arms is given to the collective "people" and not directly guaranteed to individual persons.

In light of this, the Second Amendment was never intended as a natural right such as freedom of speech or religion. Those are of the "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" variety, right? Guns hardly seem to be in the same category (unless you want to tell me you're not gonna find happiness in your life unless you own a gun... in which case I would be very scared). And yet, over the years, Americans have come to believe their right to bear arms is as unalienable as "the Big Three" mentioned above.

Why? Plainly and simply, why should the average citizen possess such horrific killing power? If we generalize to an international level, this is proportionate to the right to bear nuclear arms by individual countries. Guns kill individual people just as effectively as nuclear weapons could kill nations. So why shouldn't Iran or North Korea have the right to bear nuclear weapons?

The reason is responsibility. In the eyes of the majority of the rest of the world, these rogue states are not responsible enough and cannot be trusted to wield such awesome destructive force. A country like the United States can, not only because of its de facto position in world politics, but also because it has demosntrated itself to the rest of the world as a responsible, trustworthy, rational, and generally benevolent country (on a side note, it's those same traits which we've worked so hard to establish that Bush's Iraq war now threaten to undermine).

Take the same logic back down to the personal level. Why should Joe Sixpack have a gun? To defend his family, of course. Okay, then let's give Iran a nuke. No one can deny that Iran does have legitimate security and defense interests, which a nuclear weapon would help to bolster. You might say that Joe Sixpack isn't as ideologically fanatical as Iran has been, and isn't likely to use his right to bear arms to indiscriminately kill innocents, and I would say, sure, you're probably right. But is "probably" enough?

I mean, we are talking about fundamental (dare I say, God-given?) rights here. Should I give Joe the fundamental right to possess a weapon that can so very easily end another human life, just because he's "probably" a nice, altruistic guy? Pro-lifers are so vehemently opposed to abortion because of its infringement on the right to life (what's more important, your right to live or your right to own a firearm?), yet gun rights are tantamount to giving everyone the right to kill when they judge it necessary to defend themselves. That's the only thing the pro-choice mothers are asking for anyways, the right to decide what to do with their own bodies, when their fetuses start getting in the way of their own lives. If we can trust these mothers' judgement, we can trust Mr. Sixpack to not kill every Halloween trick-or-treater that comes to his door because he thinks they're trespassers, right? Unfortunately, no... In a country founded on the judicial principles "innocent until proven guilty" and on a committment to letting a hundred guilty men walk free so that no innocent person may be put in jail, how can we tolerate this?

And even if I did trust your average citizen to be responsible enough to handle a gun (when he isn't responsible enough to obey speed limits, pay taxes on time, go to his kid's baseball games, or a million other trivial functions he can't fulfill), that doesn't give him the right to. I ask you this, if we could live in a world where NO ONE had a gun, where all other aspects of other modern lives remained, only that guns were taken away, would you prefer that world or the real world?

Or if that is too general question to be relevant, then here is a more illustrative example. When I chose to debate gun control as a high school project, I closed my argument by posing a simple question to my class:

"In light of the tragedies at Columbine and other school shootings, can you still support the idea that the right to bear arms is necessary to protect lives? If you believe that owning a gun can make your family feel, or maybe even actually be, safer, then I ask you, would you feel/be safer, if I told you that right now Mr. Day [our teacher] had a loaded gun in his drawer there by the television?"

Not surprisingly, we won that debate.

Demosthenes said...

There are some very good arguments for and against gun control. Opponents of gun control, like RT, can point to the fact that gun ownership bans increase the ratio of illegal to legal guns and thus can increase the vulnerability. I was born in Washington, D.C., the site of the ban in question, and moved to Austin, Texas. My father didn't own a gun, but he says that he felt much safer at home in Texas than in D.C. In D.C., burglaries happen at night, when families are home. In Texas, the assumption is that a family will own a gun, so burglaries are far more rare, and when they do happen, they occur during the day when the house is unoccupied.

Proponents of gun control, like Cody, respond that allowing guns increases the number of legal and illegal guns, and increases the likelihood of gun death. Also, many deaths from guns come as a result of domestic disputes, where the presence of a gun makes no one safer.

Perhaps, instead of setting up a dichotomy between a society armed to the teeth and one utterly stripped of guns, there is room for a compromise. One good way of doing this was the ban on assault rifles, which are necessary neither for hunting nor for personal defense. This, unfortunately, was a casualty of the all-or-nothing debate on gun control.

Robin Williams, in a comedy routine, said that if we made bullets cost $5000, people simply couldn't afford to kill one another. While impossible to achieve in practice, the idea of regulating bullets is not a bad one. Armor-piercing bullets currently are unregulated. You don't need them to hunt, and unless there is a trend of body-armor-wearing criminals that I'm not aware of, their only purpose is as cop-killers. It's hard to imagine a practical argument against banning the sale of these bullets, but practicality seldom enters into an ideological defense of gun ownership (not you, RT, although I'm not entirely convinced by your practical argument).

In addition to limiting the type of ammunition sold, how about the quantity? If you keep a handgun at home for self-defense, how many bullets do you really need to buy? It seems that a limit on possessing more than one box of handgun ammunition at a time would be fairly innocuous. I would imagine the practical application as being something like this: when you (legally) purchase a handgun, you can buy one box. After that, you need police verification of firing your weapon in self-defense to purchase more ammo; if you go to a range, you have to buy the ammunition there.

The United States is never going to entirely ban guns, nor can it afford to allow gun possession in all forms and cases. Perhaps a sensible middle ground can be struck that addresses concerns on both sides.

Vladimir Estragon said...

To briefly address a few of the points made previously:

"[T]he United States can, not only because of its de facto position in world politics, but also because it has demosntrated [sic] itself to the rest of the world as a responsible, trustworthy, rational, and generally benevolent country."

Briefly, we have not at all demonstrated to the rest of the world that we are consistently any of the following: responsible, trustworthy, or rational. I exclude 'generally benevolent' from this list only because of the qualifier, though it is perhaps still arguable. The specific arguments regarding this are far more complicated and would take us in a different direction than the main topic, but though the general American public has been led to believe that we do embody these characteristics, the truth of our foreign policy in practice does not uphold that belief.

Now, back to the little guns:

"Why should Joe Sixpack have a gun? To defend his family, of course. Okay, then let's give Iran a nuke. No one can deny that Iran does have legitimate security and defense interests, which a nuclear weapon would help to bolster."

False analogy. If Iran does not have nuclear weapons and is attacked by an entity that would be worried about nuclear weapons (e.g. a nation vs. an ephemeral terrorist organization) the attacking country would not be able to flee into the darkness remaining unidentified and avoiding retribution like the robber of an unarmed household may be able to. In other words, the defense interests of Iran in having nuclear weapons (in the current world with organizations like the UN and the theme of other countries punishing or stopping unreasonable aggressors as much as possible) is not nearly as compelling as the interests of the head of a household owning a gun to deter criminals.

"I ask you this, if we could live in a world where NO ONE had a gun, where all other aspects of other modern lives remained, only that guns were taken away, would you prefer that world or the real world?"

That is not realistic at all, so is frankly a red herring.

"One good way of doing this was the ban on assault rifles, which are necessary neither for hunting nor for personal defense. This, unfortunately, was a casualty of the all-or-nothing debate on gun control."

There are bans on assault rifles (and other categories of firearms) in at least some states (e.g. California).

From another perspective, this admittedly one-sided website provides a solid range of information and arguments against these assault rifle bans.

http://www.gunowners.org/fs9403.htm


Argument dealing with the interpretation of second-amendment rights possibly to come...

RT said...

The debate on Washington DC's gun ban is purely pragmatic in nature. Never did anyone try and debase the Second Ammendment, nor should they. But even if they did, the Second Ammendment is hardly an Ammendment with deep jurisprudential roots. The right to bear arms has seldom been a "God Given Right", but if we accept that it is rooted in history and consensus , we can continue to discuss the Gun Ban only.

In Washinton DC, there is an incredible amount of gun crime, however very very rarely is it the doing of responsible citizens. Yes there are cases of domestic violence cases during deadly, but thats the case far and wide. Whats not the case is 200-300 young people dying every year in city streets because of the availability of guns and the vulnerability of citizens. When a young man in Washington DC decides to burglarize a home with a weapon, he can move confidently knowing that an average homeowner does not have a gun. By having regulated and practical gun laws, that same homeowner would now be able to protect his/her self.

Lets be completely honest. No one in DC is going hunting. Thats right, unless your illegally killing deer in Rock Creek Park, your not going hunting. Does anyone actually believe that a DCite is hunting bear on 16th street or Pennsylvania Avenue? So, I'm not basing my argument on some hypothetical use, nor am I saying that anyone needs an assault weapon or armor piercing bullets. What I am saying is that to deter perpetrators of gun violence, from roaming the streets freely and encroaching on the private property of well to do families, we must have access to guns to protect our loved ones.

Furthermore, like I have said before, almost all of the guns used in crime are illegal and unregistered. This directly reflects the huge underground gun market. The government should be trying to derail that instead of trying to take away Second Amendment rights. In addition the perpetrators of gun violence are disproportionately children who have grown up without fathers, in a school system that is by all means struggling, in poverty rates that are ghastly, and in communities where the young are bred to "get rich or die tryin'". We need to tackle all of these issues and stop wasting time trying to limit the right to bear arms.

Unlike some groups that advocate gun-rights because of some call to divine right, or arguments based on the right to "hunt", or even those calling for citizens to be armed to prevent government tyranny (because we all know, times have changed, and tyranny is no longer done by the barrel of a gun). Working families in Washington DC deserve to have their land and family protected from violence. Neither conservative or liberal, this is a plea to be serious and decidedly practical. Ideally no one should have guns, because I love peace too, but not when it starts with "Rest In"