For the last several decades, the debate regarding both the restriction and availability of firearms within the United States has been characterized by a stalemate between an individual right to bear arms based on the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and the responsibility of government to prevent crime, maintain order and protect the wellbeing of its citizens.
Political arguments of gun politics in the United States center around disagreements that range from the practical – does gun ownership cause or prevent crime? – to the constitutional – how should the Second Amendment be interpreted? – to the ethical – what should the balance be between an individual’s right of self-defense through gun ownership and the People’s interest in maintaining public safety? Political arguments about gun rights fall into two basic categories, first, does the government have the authority to regulate guns, second, if it does, is it an effective tool for public safety.
In the wake of several high-profile shootings — The recent killings of 26 people – 20 of them of them children — in an attack in an elementary school in central Connecticut, the murder of 12 moviegoers a in Aurora, Colo.; the killing of six people in a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, Wisc.; and the recent shooting at the Empire State Building— gun violence has continued to cover front pages of newspapers across the country. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reported that 8,793 guns were collected in New York in 2011, but only 1,595 of them in a New York-based purchase. This means that almost 7,200 guns were brought into New York last year from outside the state; this allows those individuals who cannot legally own a gun have easy access to one.
According to a report called “Protect Children, Not Guns”, by the Children Defense Fund, in 2008, 2,947 children and teens died from guns in the United States and 2,793 died in 2009 for a total of 5,740—one child or teen every three hours, eight every day, 55 every week for two years. In 2008 and 2009, gun homicide was the leading cause of deaths among black teens. High populated cities in Westchester like Yonkers and Mt. Vernon have had a long history of gun violence. In 2008 and 2009, Mt. Vernon has averaged a homicide a month. Homicides in big cities like Chicago have outpaced the murders of US troops in Afghanistan. The Huffington Post reported that more Chicago residents — 228 — have been killed so far this year in the city than the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan – 144 — over the same period.The most recent analysis of data from 23 high-income countries reported that 87 percent of children under age 15 killed by guns in these nations lived in the United States. And the U.S. gun homicide rate for teens and young adults 15 to 24 was 42.7 times higher than the combined gun homicide rate for that same age group in the other countries.
With all the homicides of children and innocent people organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA) continues to lobby against any legislation that is designed for public safety. The NRA has gone to great lengths (and spends a huge sum of money) to defend the right to bear arms. It is opposed to virtually every form of gun control, including restrictions on owning assault weapons, background checks for gun owners, and registration of firearms. Between 2001 and 2010, the NRA spent between $1.5 million and $2.7 million on federal-level lobbying efforts. During the 2010 election cycle, the NRA spent more than $7.2 million on independent expenditures at the federal level — messages that advocate for or against political candidates. These messages primarily supported Republican candidates or opposed Democratic candidates. The NRA also used their political clout to influence members in the United State Congress to hold the US Attorney General in contempt. This political move by the NRA is a prime example how money can influence any politicians vote and their agenda even if it puts our public safety in jeopardy.
Why haven’t our United States Congress or the NRA questioned how many youth in the poor and black communities across the nation are able to buy Uzi sub-machine guns, AK-47 rifles, and other assault weapons that would fuel deadly gang turf wars, drive-by shootings, murders and robberies? The amount of guns that flow in these communities across the nation far out way the estimated two thousand that was lost across the border and have killed mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and even law enforcement. Even in many cities in Westchester, it is easier for black youth to get an illegal gun faster than they can get a legal job.
Unfortunately, the NRA is not so generous or sensitive to families of victims of gun violence. In the wake of many mass murders across the country, the organization has had no response. According to a Daily News report, months after pretending to empathize with a Harlem mother, Mrs. Jackie Rowe-Adams whose two sons were victims of fatal shootings. The National Rifle Association’s CEO Wayne LaPierre was a no-show at a rally against gun violence in Harlem, New York which NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and Rep. Charlie Rangel attended. Mr. LaPierre gave his word to work with Harlem mothers that children have been killed by gun violence. “I feel it’s disrespectful of him to say he was going to work with Harlem mothers, and he never answered any of our calls,” Jackie Rowe-Adams told the Daily News. “That is rude and unforgettable and unforgivable.”
Public Safety refers to the welfare and protection of the general public. It is usually expressed as a governmental responsibility. It is up to the government to insure a balance between the right to own a gun and legislation that will keep illegal guns off the street. Organizations like the National Rifle Association should be at the forefront to insure that less illegal guns are in communities across the nation. Instead the NRA has used their influence against public safety legislation while illegal guns kill thousands of men, women and children each year.
Damon K. Jones, BLEA, New York