Columnist discusses the flaws of gun control legislation.
BY ADELAIDE PETRAS ’24
“Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.”
This is an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence that I think perfectly encompasses the need for the American people to be treated as equals to their government (although I would argue that that hasn’t happened as of yet). I typically take the words of the wealthy, white male politicians of the 18th century with a grain of salt, but this idea is something that shapes the foundation of my beliefs.
Gun control is a subject that I feel is often not viewed with the complexity and nuance it truly possesses. So to simplify, I’ll begin with a fact: The United States spends approximately $100 billion per year on policing. A portion of this budget goes to weapons for law enforcement officials, including lethal handguns. In other words, government officials possess deadly weapons, which they are allowed to use at their own discretion and judgment as someone in a position of relative power.
Especially after the events of the last few years and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, most people have become somewhat aware of issues regarding corruption in law enforcement and police brutality. Police have killed over 1,000 people in the U.S. in the past year, with Black and Hispanic people making up a disproportionately large number of them. From this I can conclude that racism clearly pervades police departments, and that their judgment is not to be trusted.
It is astronomically important for marginalized people to have the ability to protect themselves against their oppressors, who, in this case, are the police. For people to be left powerless against an armed government is contrary to every value many Americans and their government claim to hold dear. So, I return to the excerpt from the Declaration of Independence and pose this question: How can the people overthrow a destructive government if they are not supplied with the resources to do so?
It is not a remotely new idea among the political left that guns can be used as a way for the people to protect their rights. The Black Panther Party, a crucial element of the civil rights movement, held that African Americans have the right to bear arms as a means of protection against an oppressive government. Similarly, progressive voting rights and anti-lynching advocate Ida B. Wells said, “A Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every Black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.”
Additionally, gun control legislation naturally involves restrictions, and actions involving restriction have been historically discriminatory. For example, these practices predate the Civil War with “Slave Codes” that prohibited enslaved people from owing guns and developed into high taxes imposed to bar Black and poor people from purchasing guns. Similarly, a 1640 Virginia law outright banned all Indigenous and Black Americans from possessing firearms. Discriminatory ideologies such as these inevitably seep into modern gun control legislation, as it’s impossible to completely eliminate the ideas a system has been built upon.
Gun control measures often involve background checks, which are also known to be discriminatory. A person can fail a background check due to nonviolent offenses and minor drug charges, and Black people are almost three times as likely as white people to be arrested on drug charges, despite similar rates of use. This allows white people to acquire guns and leaves Black people with an equivalent criminal history unarmed.
It would be wrong to fail to address the prevalence of gun violence in America, but I don’t believe that gun control alone can reduce gun violence. Instead, I propose an increase in research surrounding perpetrators and victims of gun violence. The lack of research partially exists due to the 1996 Dickey Amendment, which banned the CDC from researching gun-related deaths and injuries. Additionally, increased research about the psychology of shooters would help find the root causes of shootings and provide clues on how to take preventative measures.
All that being said, guns wouldn’t exist at all in my ideal world — the best-case scenario would be for neither the government nor the people to have the need to possess firearms. Of course, I don’t have the ability to wave a wand and create a perfect utopian society, so I argue instead for what I believe to be the next best option: for people to have sovereignty over their government, which in this case involves the right to be armed. The bottom line is that in either scenario — utopia or reality — the people should have equal, if not more power than their government.