Friday, 23 March 2012

Gun Laws in America

Gary Younge has an interesting article at the Guardian, following the gun-related death of an unarmed black teen named Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.  The 17 year old boy was shot dead by a neighbourhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, allegedly in an act of self-defence.

Mr. Younge approaches the story from a racial perspective, identifying a number of factors that, in his view, contribute to the likelihood of this sort of event occurring:

Add to this lax gun laws, entrenched segregation, deep economic inequalities and a statute that endorses vigilantism, and a murder of this kind is inevitable.

All of these factors deserve to be considered in great depth, but one in particular has a simple solution:  gun control.

The much cited Second Amendment to the United States Constitution speaks of a citizen's right to bear arms.  To many americans, this is a sacred right.  The desire to own a gun is certainly understandable - what is more important to the average individual than the safety and protection of his or her family?

Yet we are inundated with countless examples of the negative consequences of lax gun laws, with Trayvon Martin's case being but one of many.  On a wider scale, it has been demonstrated that soft gun laws lead to much higher rates of gun violence - which disproportionately affect black people.

A 2007 analysis by the Washington-based Violence Policy Center found that states with 'weak' gun laws had the highest rates of gun ownership and the highest levels of gun deaths.  The converse was also true - strong gun laws were associated with low rates of both ownership and deaths.

These results are supported by a number of similar analyses, and it should be noted that the same conclusions apply even when the subject area is extended beyond the United States.  A 2000 study published in the Journal of Trauma found a direct correlation between gun availability and homicide rates among developed countries:

"Across 26 high-income nations, there is a strong and statistically significant association between gun availability and homicide rates."

Even here in Australia, it has become clear that gun laws have a tangible effect on the rate of gun-related deaths.  Gun laws introduced by the Howard Government in the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre lead to an acceleration in the decline of Australian gun deaths.

The evidence is therefore quite clear.  In order to reduce the prevalence of gun-related deaths in the United States, there must be tougher gun laws.  That is certainly not the only solution, and it fails to address the core causes of entrenched violence in disadvantaged communities, but it is a simple first step.

Tragically however, it will take a number of brave politicians in a number of passionately pro-gun states to enact the sort of tough gun laws required - and even if legislation is successful, the Second Amendment will always enter the picture from a judicial perspective.

One has to ask how long the bloodshed must continue before enough is considered enough.

No comments:

Post a Comment