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The Gun Control Debate After Newtown, in Plain English

The Second Amendment is one of the most controversial articles of the U.S. Constitution.

Written to protect citizens during a time where the nation had no standing army, the article reads:

"A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

The shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 27 people were killed on Friday, has called our right to bear arms into question.

In a nutshell

Is the Newtown shooting a singular event or an indicator of systemic issues? As the Washington Post pointed out,

"Of the 12 deadliest shootings in U.S. history, six have taken place since 2007."

Can gun massacres be prevented, or at least made more rare?

People are shocked, angry, and upset, and no one wants to see something like what happened in Newtown happen again.

So, not surprisingly, much attention is being turned on gun rights. And people are split.

One Nation, Under Guns

While some want more gun control laws on the books, others think guns aren't the problem and want to preserve Second Amendment rights.

Some are pointing to examples like Australia, where gun-control laws enacted after a 1996 mass shooting are credited with a plunge in gun-related crimes and with stopping gun massacres altogether.

Other voices are saying that factors like America's culture of violence, poor healthcare, lack of widespread spiritual belief, and ultimately the lack of resources for parents dealing with mentally unstable children are the real problems that need to be addressed.

Let's look at America's gun rights and gun control debate, including some of the key solutions and opinions.

Gun-control advocacy

Those who want increased gun control basically see weak laws as the key factor in events like shooting rampages. Gun-control activists generally believe in one of these two things, or both:

  • Stepping up the enforcement of existing laws.
  • Passing new restrictions.

The main organization that advocates for gun control is the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, said she would introduce an assault weapons ban bill on the first day in the new session of Congress.

Senator Dianne Feinstein

President Obama, in speaking in Newtown on Sunday night, seemed to call for increased gun control:

These tragedies must end. And to end them we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law – no set of laws – can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can't be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.

Of course, it can take months or years to craft and pass legislation. And whether a new law would even pass is an open question. We've had the gun control debate many times over. And it's not entirely clear that a majority of Americans want increased gun control.

After the shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., in July, Feinstein made similar statements, calling for the renewal of an assault weapons ban that had expired. Former President Bill Clinton...

President Clinton visits India

...was, in fact, the one who passed the bill that expired in 2004. Despite the law's major loopholes, it would have banned the gun used by James Holmes in Aurora had it been renewed.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is another politician calling for a ban on assault weapons and more action by Obama:

President Obama hinted that he plans on doing something tangible to prevent gun violence, but what that was exactly isn't clear:

What's an assault weapon?

Hunting rifle

Exact definitions actually vary.

Basically, there are fully automatic weapons that fire continuously when the trigger is held down. These have been heavily regulated since 1934.

What people mostly refer to when they talk about assault weapons - and about further regulating or banning them - are semi-automatic weapons which reload automatically, but fire only once each time the trigger is pulled.

Congress defined an assault weapons as a firearm with military-type features that are useful in combat situations.

Another approach to regulating assault weapons is to enact a sizable tax on the ammunition these guns use.

The other side: gun rights advocacy

So you've probably heard the phrase "guns don't kill people - people kill people." This sums up the belief of many gun rights activists, who strongly support the right to bear arms provided in the Second Amendment. Some also argue that the country would be safer if more people, not fewer people, carry guns.

Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas is a voice for gun rights. He said that had the principal - who died trying to stop the shooter - been armed, the Newtown shooting might have ended up differently:

"I wish to God she had an M-4 in her office locked up — so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands."

The National Rifle Association is just the main organization that advocates for protecting gun ownership rights and free market sales of firearms.

NRA Emblem

Aside from a thank you to NRA Facebook supporters the day after the shooting, the organization has been completely silent on the issue. The NRA Facebook page has also been taken down.

Some people are changing their minds

Several gun-rights voices seem to be switching sides in the aftermath of what happened in Newtown.

Joe Scarborough, a conservative commentator and former politician who was solidly aligned with the NRA, said that the massacre in Newtown changed his political views:

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia - a staunch gun-rights supporter - also said the tragedy had changed his mind.

What others are saying

More than 155,000 people have signed a White House petition urging the president to introduce new gun-control legislation to Congress.

Many have tweeted their views in the past few days:

And then there are these tweets:


The Kicker

Here are some ways you can take action:

Small:
Read up on four ways to stop gun violence >>

Medium:

Join the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence >>

Large:

Sign the petition to "demand a plan" to prevent another Newtown from happening >>

Donate to Team Gun Control or Team Gun Rights - both to benefit victims' families in Newtown >>

Join the One Million Child March on Washington >>

Images used under Creative Commons licensing.

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Jennifer Cain

Jenny Cain is a freelance writer from Orange County, California, and former banana slug, or UC Santa Cruz alum. She teaches classical and jazz piano to high school students and audits classes at UC Irvine. Inspired by Beyonce, Sheryl Sandberg, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and the Supreme Court’s 3 badass lady justices, she’d like to see the U.S. elect their first woman president. Like, yesterday.

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