APPLIED PHILOSOPHY

A Guide To Conservatism: Guns

Teenagers, particularly those in high school, have come to dominate the ongoing national conversation surrounding gun legislation; all of these teenagers, at least the ones promoted by legacy media, are avid proponents of further gun control measures. Their array of views range from stricter background checks, a ban on semi-automatic weapons, to even the outright confiscation of civilian firearms.

Well, I’m a teenager too: I’m 17 years old, I’m in high school, and I’m a staunch supporter of gun rights, the Second Amendment, and the National Rifle Association. Met with aghast peers when I reveal my cherished beliefs, I have come to realize that many of those who engage in discourse over the state of gun ownership in America are not informed on the conservative position on guns. Thus, here is a step-by-step guide on the conservative position on guns.

Assault Weapons

An oft-touted colloquialism during firearm discourse is, “assault weapon,” and this misleading term has assumed the mantle of being the object of progressive anger, who incessantly call for a ban on such weaponry. For one, it is the conservative position to reject the classification of any firearm as an, “assault weapon,” as it incenses those who are not well-versed in firearm terminology, and is often used to manipulate the emotions of the same people by progressive politicians. Instead, conservative prefer to use more precise terminology to avoid such provocation, such as automatic and semi-automatic.

The former (automatic) is a military-style rifle that is capable of, “spray-firing,” with an operation in which the trigger, once pulled down, dispenses bullets continuously until the trigger is released or the magazine is emptied. Such weapons have been subject of strict regulation since 1934 with the passage of the National Firearms Act, which required all automatic weapons to be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). This law was amended under the Gun Control Act of 1968 which established the procedure of the transfer of such firearms, in which the Attorney General’s office must approve of it following a background check. Finally, under the Hughes Amendment of the Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA) of 1986, the future production of such firearms is prohibited. It is for this reason that conservatives are largely not in support of further legislation directed towards military-caliber weapons: they are already extensively regulated, and no new ones can legally be produced. Conservatives largely view this as political posturing by progressives to rally a culture disconnected from firearm culture.

A tier below fully-automatic weapons are semi-automatic weapons: firearms that dispense one bullet every time the trigger is pulled and reload automatically. Such firearms are designed, explicitly, for civilian use. Semi-automatic weapons encompass both rifles, such variants of the AR-15, and pistols, such as variants of the Glock. It is when dealing with semi-automatic weapons that conservatives become resistant–and sometimes hostile–to gun control measures, because semi-automatics, upon attaching different modifications such as pistol grip, scope, or detachable magazine, fall under the classification of, “assault weapon,” despite the function of such firearms not being altered with these modifications. This is problematic to conservatives because of our position on semi-automatic weapons: we believe that eligible citizens should have the ability to purchase, own, and operate them for their own self-defense, particularly rifles. Many proponents of gun control take particular issue with semi-automatic rifles, often resorting to rhetoric that question their necessity.

Conservatives support ownership of semi-automatic rifles because they are the most effective means of self defense: these rifles are heavier (thereby lessening recoil), have more points of contact with the user’s body, have a larger radius, and require less force to pull the trigger, thus making them more accurate and capable of longer-range fire. However, while rifles are easier to operate than handgun, they are still not, to the average person, easy to use, as they require proper training to utilize.

Conservatives, as well as the NRA, support the effective ban on fully-automatic weapons, but are resistant to an outright ban on what many call, “assault weapons,” due to the inclusion of semi-automatic rifles which prove to be the most effective means of protection. Viewed as pontificating, conservatives oppose rhetoric that includes the specific terminology, “assault weapon,” due to its dishonesty. More so, conservatives and the NRA are vociferously opposed to bans on semi-automatic weapons as a whole, as this would also include many pistols, rendering many incapable of defending themselves.

This also elucidates conservative frustration with much of the media and progressive politicians: most have little experience with firearms and employ incendiary language that plays upon ignorance. This minimal experience often translates into misinformed policy and irrational hostility to very basic variants of firearms.

Background Checks

Under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, otherwise known as the “Brady Bill,” firearm dealers must perform a comprehensive background check on a prospective buyer by running them through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Should the prospective buyer be found to have a criminal history, including discharges from the army or convictions, health issues such as mental defects or history of abusing drugs, or a lack of citizenship, are prohibited from being sold a firearm. This is what is considered a background check, and is required for any sales by a firearm dealer to a prospective buyer; said buyer is then prohibited from transferring this firearm to anybody who they believe to be legally unable to purchase one of their own. This entire process is supported by conservatives and the NRA, with certain caveats about centralization. However, what conservatives oppose is further expansion of background checks due to its futility.

The NICS relies upon local law enforcement units and the military to accurately document discharges, criminal activity, and health defects that may disqualify a prospective buyer from purchasing a firearm. This is a duty agencies often shirk:

  • The state of Virginia failed to report Cho Seung Hui, the Virginia Tech shooter who killed thirty-two people, had been, “adjudicated as a mental defective,” allowing him to purchase a firearm
  • The FBI were aware of possible terrorist connections Omar Mateen, the Pulse nightclub shooter, had, but failed to document this, thereby allowing him to acquire firearms
  • The FBI were aware of possible connections Rizwan Farook and Teshfeen Malik, perpetrators of the San Bernardino attacks, had to Islamic terrorist groups, but still allowed them to acquire firearms
  • The Broward County Sheriff’s office, as well as the FBI, were aware of Nikolas Cruz’s mental incapacities–autism and depression–as well as his tendency to threaten other students with firearms, but he was still able to purchase them

Background checks can only be conducted if data is entered into the NICS, but the agency responsible for doing such is often deficient when it comes to this vital task, which is why conservatives oppose extending background checks. Gun control legislation that already exists is not enforced, and furthering such policy would be ineffective. Furthermore, “extending background checks” often includes relinquishing due process for those on the no-fly list and a distant history of mental illness; gun ownership is a right that can only be discontinued through due process, as per the Fifth Amendment.

Moreover, the government fails to prosecute those who lie on federal firearm acquisition forms or felons who obtain firearms. In order to begin the process of purchasing a firearm, prospective buyers must complete federal forms, and lying on one is tantamount to making false claims to federal agencies. This is one type of crime that can occur in this instance–another is one in which a convicted felon or somebody otherwise disqualified to possess a firearm passes all required checks. There is no solid statistic on the government’s failure to prosecute these crimes, but it is estimated to be a vast minority.

When conservatives and the NRA oppose extending background checks, it is because existing policy measures regarding firearms are not being executed as legislated. Had the agencies responsible for carrying out background checks assumed their delineated responsibilities, four of the largest massacres, and perhaps the Las Vegas shooting, could have been prevented. Legislating more laws that will not be enforced is akin to passing no legislation.

Mass Shootings & Gun Violence

As documented by the Cato Institute, between 1982 and 2018, including the most recent Parkland shooting, 816 people have been killed in mass shootings–a daunting number. However, this is over a twenty-six year period, meaning that an average of twenty-three people are killed every year in mass shootings–a minuscule fraction of the United States population, which exceeds 320 million. This translates into a rate of death in mass shootings to 0.089 per 100,000 between 2009 and 2015, as per the Crime Prevention Research Center, which ranks the United States eleventh in comparison to other developed countries, ranking below Norway (1.888 per 100,000), Serbia (0.381 per 100,000), France (0.347 per 100,00), Switzerland (0.142 per 100,000), Finland (0.132 per 100,000) and the Czech Republic (0.123 per 100,000). Each of these countries has gun control legislation that is stricter than the United States, despite the statistically significant fact that one is more likely to die from a mass shooting in one of these European countries.

A favorite example of gun control implementation for its proponents are Australia and Great Britain, with the claim that mass shootings were eliminated and gun crime dissipated–and while each of these claims have truth to them, they do not represent the story in its entirety. For one, mass shootings in both countries, as documented by Leah Libresco, a statistician at FiveThirtyEight, were already extremely rare in both countries prior to their gun ban. It is thus conclusively statistically impossible to deduce that it was gun control that eliminated mass shootings. Furthermore, estimates for the amount of firearms in Australia that were turned in during the buyback period range between one fifth and one third, leaving at least two millions guns in the hands of private citizens. Furthermore, all citizens who turned in their guns were law-abiding citizens–not criminals.

Moreover, such gun control legislation had no discernible effect on crime. As it pertains to the United Kingdom, gun crimes rose all throughout the 1990s, peaking in 2003 and 2004 until subsequently falling, despite the gun ban being enacted in 1996. This post-2004 drop could be attributed to this confiscation.

Similar themes were present in Australia following its buyback. In a study conducted in 2003, criminologists Peter Reuter an Jenny Mouzos found that criminals resorted to substituting their firearms with other lethal weapons. This is, ostensibly, a victory for gun control, as firearms are the most lethal variants of deadly weapons, but the rate of violent death in Australia remained unchanged in post-buyback Australia. Another study, conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that, while firearm suicide and homicide did fall in the post-buyback period, their fall coincided with a near-identical fall in overall suicide and homicide.

It is for these reasons that conservatives oppose confiscation and buyback programs, or similar bans on semi-automatic weapons: they are largely futile in their efforts to reduce gun crime. Rather, they may act counterproductively to strip people of their ability to defend themselves.

Gun violence is barely present within countries such as Japan, and many point to its strict gun control as the impetus of this, and suggest that American states have emulated this practice to nearly eliminate gun violence through the implementation of gun control. It is simply logical that, with a higher availability of guns, more crime with guns will be committed. However, crime is observed to happen independent of accessibility of guns, as demonstrated by Dr. Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Many studies, through the use of sleight of hand tricks, conflate gun deaths with total deaths, which is an important distinction, as criminals determined to commit a crime will find a means through which to do so. Total deaths, however, represent the full picture, and can determine if there is a correlation between crime and guns, not just gun crime. Dr. Volokh, in his study, found there to be no correlation between gun control laws (Brady Campaign scores) and the total deaths within a state. This confirms the oft-repeated claim that criminals will find a means through which to commission a crime, regardless of the tools that are at their disposal, which is why gun rights need to be preserved.

Preservation of Gun Rights

Many don’t understand why conservatives support gun rights. What it largely amounts to is that the ownership of a firearm allows for Americans to take their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness into their own hands.

Dr. Gary Kleck and Dr. Marc Gertz, criminology professors at Florida State University, produced one of the groundbreaking studies on the defensive uses of firearms, estimating that there are 2.1 million instances of defense gun uses (DGUs) every year, a figure arrived at through the inclusion of brandishing a weapon as a DGU. Dr. John Lott, economist and professor, has estimated brandishing to comprise of over 90% of DGUs. Police reports often do not include reports of DGUs, even when a bullet is fired at a perpetrator, which explains discrepancies in countries that use police archives to estimate the number of DGUs.

It is for these reasons that conservatives are dedicated to preserving gun rights. Teenagers are the future, and we are finding our voice, and I will use mine to preserve gun rights for Americans.

 

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