Public Opinion on Gun Control

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Public Opinion on Gun Control
The twentieth century was a time of many political assassinations and violent shootings. A nation in shock mourned the deaths of President John Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. At the end of the twentieth century the nation endured rising rates of violent crime, with young people frequently involved as victims and perpetrators and often armed with guns. Between July 1992, and June 30, 1999, there were 358 school-associated violent deaths in the United States, including 255 deaths of school- aged children, or about 51 such violent deaths each year. (Schmitt rot, 2003) Time after time, public opinion polls have shown that crime and violence are among the most important concerns troubling Americans, if not the most important. But do these concerns translate to changes in public support for federal gun control measures? I will focus on public attitudes toward gun control over both the short and longer terms.

Some Americans are convinced that more federal regulation of firearms is necessary to reduce the number of murders that are committed with guns and to ensure a safer, more civilized society. Others who support private ownership of guns insist that the right to bear arms is guaranteed by longstanding custom and by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and that no cyclical increase in crime, no mass killing, nor any political murders should lead the nation to violate the Constitution and the individual rights it guarantees. What's more, they say, knives and other instruments are used to kill people, and there is no talk of regulating or banning them. The National Rifle Association generally believes that if more ordinary, law-abiding citizens carried weapons, criminals would not have a safe place to commit mass murders and other violent crimes.

Both supporters and opponents of gun control agree that some means should be found to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Not surprisingly, the two sides approach the issue differently. The two different strategies for gun control involve "deterrence" (discouraging by instilling fear) and " interdiction" (legally forbidding the use of) Advocates of deterrence, most notably the Second Amendment Foundation and the NRA, recommend consistent enforcement of current laws and instituting tougher penalties to discourage individuals from using firearms in crimes. They maintain that interdiction will not have any effect on crime but will strip away the constitutional rights and privileges of law-abiding Americans by taking away their right to own guns. On the other hands, advocates of interdiction, led by such organizations as Handgun Control, Inc, the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, and the Violence Policy Center, believe that controlling citizens' access to firearms will reduce crime. Therefore, they favor restrictions on public gun ownership. A ten year overview of the public's attitudes about the issues government ought to be addressing is presented by the U.S. Department of Justice in its annual publication called Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2002.In 1993 fewer that 0.5 percent of adults polled mentioned gun control spontaneously. In each year thereafter between 1 and 2 percent of the respondents mentioned gun control as an important issue. (Web 1) Humphrey Taylor, Chairman of the Harris Poll, provides some insight into the meaning of the gun control numbers in an online essay dated May 17, 2000 .The essay accompanied the release of Harris Poll in which the question was asked: "What do you think are the two most important issues for the government to address?" Taylor noted: "Education (19 percent) and health care (16 percent) continue to come top of the list of issues mentioned spontaneously when people were asked to say which two issues are most important to address. The most interesting trend is that gun control was mentioned by 9 percent …Between 1996 and the first half of 1999, only one or two...
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