I wrote this about a year ago for a graduate level class I was taking. I got an A on the paper too. Also there's a 25000 character limit so I will post in two posts.
The Lack of Ethics in Gun Control Policy
One of the most well-known controversial issues in the news and politics today is the issue of gun control. The media shows numerous controversies associated with both firearms and the enforcement of laws controlling firearms. This is often thought of as exclusively a political issue and although these laws are often debated and made within the political realm there is another debate that must be considered when discussing gun control. This is not just a political debate; it is an ethical debate. The fact that the right to own weapons is explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution means that to make policy or to enforce laws without being mindful to the traditions of this country would be in violation of the ideals that the country was founded on. At the same time the risk to safety and security means that there must be measures taken to ensure that these weapons are owned and used responsibly. Therefore there must be a balance between allowing people to exercise their Second Amendment rights and ensuring that all people are afforded the right of safety must be achieved. The intent of this writing is to show the many ethical issues associated with achieving that balance by showing instances of the improper enforcement of existing laws and how many regulations and laws should be more sensible in the way they are interpreted and enforced.
The U.S. Constitution explicitly gives the public the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment (1789); "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." Over the years and over two centuries of this writing has been interpreted to mean many different things.
In the winter 1995 issue of Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy, Craig E Cramer outlined the racist origins of gun control in America. He states that shortly after the Louisiana purchase gun control laws were passed with the intent of disarming black residents of Louisiana. These laws were based on the fear that the a free black population might rebel against the new American government due to the observation of the recent uprising by the slaves against the French in Haiti. Laws such as this continued to be passed up until the Civil War. After the Civil War laws were continued to be passed which restricted the rights of people of color to own and carry weapons despite the fact that the 14th amendment was recently passed which guarantees equal rights under the law for all (Cramer 1995). These laws did not end during the reconstruction era nor did they end with the civil rights movement a century later. Cramer (1995) argues that even some of the more recently passed gun control laws are often influenced by racism.
Nationally known tragedies often spur the debate of gun control due to the belief that the restriction of weapons would prevent people from being able to carry out mass murder or other violent crimes.
One of the most prevalent offenses which prompted the gun control debate was the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The incident spawned numerous attempts to pass gun-control laws most notably an attempt by some in Congress to pass a law requiring trigger locks to be sold with new guns (PBS 2009). There is however no evidence that suggest a trigger lock would prevent someone in their late teens from accessing a weapon with the intent to use it for mass murder. Simply the fact that criminals are willing to break laws against murder would mean that the same criminals would also disregard laws about trigger locks.
Anther question over gun control is a question over the enforcement of gun control and other laws. These questions involve incidents such as the confiscation of weapons by police after Hurricane Katrina, laws enacted by states and local governments and how states and local governments react to federal law in federal court decisions.
In January 2009 the pro-gun activist group, Gun Owners of America released a report about the legal confiscation of privately owned weapons in the wake of Hurricane Katrina nearly 4 years earlier. In many cases gun owners were able to use their weapons and defense of their own property from looters and other criminals. Many houses were boarded up with graffiti on the boards saying, "looters will be shot" and "you loot we shoot." An author for Gun owners of America, GOA Spokesman John Lott (2009) drew a parallel between these events and the events of the Los Angeles riots over a decade earlier when several members of the city's Korean-American population used firearms to defend their property against rioters. While incidents such as this show that private gun ownership can be helpful for defense of personal property other incidents in Hurricane Katrina have shown that the ethics of law enforcement personnel enforcing gun laws or lack thereof in the event of a natural disasters and civil unrest have come and question. Lott also cited the fact that in the United States only 13% of robberies are committed with the resident in the home as opposed to 59% of robberies in Great Britain where virtually all firearms are banned from private ownership.
A specific incident that Lott (2009) referred to in his article was a case in which a tavern owner in New Orleans was guarding his business and protecting it from looters when the police illegally confiscated as weapons. Soon after the property was looted. This was a case in which civil unrest was rampant due to the disaster and a law-abiding citizen was denied the rights to protect his own property from criminals under the guise of public safety.
In January 2011 a gunman in Tucson Arizona seriously wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed several others. Many politicians were quick to blame the Conservative Tea Party movement for the shooting including the Pima County Sheriff and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. According to Foxnews, County Sheriff Clarence Dundok called his own state a "Mecca of hatred and bigotry" blamed the Tea Party as well as opposition to illegal immigration. There were no direct links to gun control except that according to CBS news that Glock 19 used by the gunmen was purchased legally. It had for a time appeared that the gun-control debate had died down except for the fact that the politicians continued to blame conservative movements and these movements are often associated with the opposition to gun control.
The incidents of Hurricane Katrina would not be the last case of government mishandling of the enforcement of gun laws and although the Giffords shooting prompted few cases of gun control being advocated another far more scandalous incident would soon surface. The recent Fast and Furious operation has become one of the most questionable operations ever carried out by a federal level law enforcement agency as detailed by W. James Antle of The American Spectator (2012). The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempted undercover action for what the Department of Justice claims was a means for tracking illegal firearms tracking. Normally when law enforcement wishes to combat "straw purchases" in which weapons are purchased for people who are not legally permitted to buy them by people who are, these straw purchasers are tracked by law enforcement and arrested. Unlike the previous standard operating procedure in the Fast and Furious operation the weapons were allowed to be transferred into the hands of criminals which would then cross the border to Mexico (Antle, 2012). Proponents of this action within the ATF and the Department of Justice claimed that the intent of the operation was to track the weapons to who they saw as the more threatening criminals rather than the so-called "middle men" who only bought the weapons. The problem is that the ATF has no real way to track the weapons once they entered criminal hands except in cases where criminals were actually caught with the weapons This resulted in the death of at least one border patrol agent in the United States in an unknown number of Mexican citizens in Mexico. The ATF had also allowed over 2000 weapons in 10,000 rounds of ammunition to be turned over to the criminals(Antle 2012). This is far more than the agency would be able to track. The ATF has essentially supplied the criminals with weapons and ammo to commit crimes with.
The ATF had no real means to control the thousands of weapons once they entered into criminal hands. At the very least this shows that the ATF is incompetent for conducting an undercover operation without controlling the items in question. At worst this is a case of an attempt by the Justice Department to enforce political agenda. Either way the conduct of the ATF is unacceptable. If government agencies are to use weapons tracking programs to enforce laws and to catch criminals they should be expected to conduct operations that are more reasonable and can be tracked better. Department of Justice leadership had to know that if this many weapons had been given to criminals that these weapons would undoubtedly be used to commit crimes. This operation is therefore unethical due to the fact that the weapons were transferred with the understanding that they would be probably used to commit crimes prior to the weapons being identified. Government agencies should understand that when conducting these types of operations they must do so responsibly in a way that the weapons can be identified and recovered before they are used to commit violent crimes.
Edit: To be continued in Pt. 2. Tried to post already, but the forum blocked it pending moderator review.
Local governments often have the most restrictive regulations of enforcement with concern to gun rights. In 2009 the US Supreme Court struck down a District of Columbia law prohibiting residents from owning handguns. (CBS 2009). Despite the court's decision, the city government has used its own bureaucracy to continue to make gun ownership difficult by imposing a large amount of steps and regulations required in order to get a permit. Emily Miller, a Senior Editor with the Washington Times (2012) outlined request to obtain a handgun while living in the District of Columbia. What she encountered was a large variety of bureaucratic roadblocks in the way of her attempt to get the firearm. She stated that after obtaining information from the city about the process of getting a permit she was, "...overwhelmed by all that is required before I can take legal possession of a purchased gun.(Miller 2012)." According to Miller these are the steps that she needed to go through to complete the process:
1) Fill out the eligibility form and get it notarized
2) Find a D.C.-certified instructor to sign up for a firearms safety course
3) Take four hours of classroom instruction and one hour of range instruction on safety and have the instructor fill out the compliance form
4) Provide proof that my vision is okay
5) Provide proof of residency
6) Get two passport photos
7) Study D.C.ís laws and regulations for firearms
8) Pass a 20-question multiple choice test on No. 7
9) Be fingerprinted
10) Pay fees totaling $60
11) Buy the gun
12) Arrange with D.C.'s only legal gun broker to transfer the gun (cost $125) to him
13) Have Mr. Sykes fill out the his section in the application for firearms registration certificate
14) Take all the applications requirements from above to the registration office
15) After the application is in, wait five days for the application to be approved
16) After the five days are up, wait another 5 days for Mr. Sykes to be legally allowed to release the firearm
17) Pick up the gun from Mr. Sykes and take it to the police department for a ballistics test (Miller 2012)
The requirements that Ms. Miller has had to meet simply to obtain a license firearm are beyond absurd. For example in step 15 it takes five days for the application to be approved; this appears to be an intentional waiting period and not the actual amount of time it would take to approve the application. In step 12 there is only one legal gun broker in the city essentially giving him a monopoly on the license to transfer guns into the District of Columbia since it is unlikely that a city which has banned handguns for so long would have any license gun dealers. Therefore anyone wishing to own a handgun would have to buy the weapon outside of the city and have it transferred in through Mr. Sykes.
What was perhaps even more absurd was the experience Ms. Miller had when she purchased ammunition. The District of Columbia laws concerning possession of ammunition are just as strict as the laws for possessing firearms or perhaps even more so. Laws prohibit possession of ammunition for weapons that the owner does not possess. This also means that it is illegal to buy the ammunition before buying a firearm. Another law makes it illegal to own ammunition that can pierce more than 18 layers of kevlar and anyone who does could serve 10 years in a DC prison. Another law bans the possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds (Miller 2012). The pistol purchased by Ms. Miller included a 13 round magazine and therefore she had to leave the original magazine with the gun dealer before having the weapon transferred into DC. There was also no ammunition seller within the District of Columbia meaning that she would have to get the ammunition from somewhere else. While there are several online retailers selling ammunition none of them are willing to ship to DC due to the strict gun laws. When buying ammunition Ms. Miller stated that," As I learned, the police who staff the office and are tasked with explaining the gun laws to residents just invent laws that donít exist. (2012)"
Ms. Miller's experience shows how even though the Supreme Court struck down the DC law banning the ownership of handguns, that municipalities and in this case a nation's capital can circumvent a court decisions and effectively invent their own laws by using the bureaucracy to make it difficult or impossible to own the weapon legally.
In 2010 a similar situation occurred in Chicago. The US Supreme Court struck down the city's law banning handgun ownership. In response the city complied by legalizing and gun ownership but also by making extremely difficult for people to actually acquire and maintain handguns. The new law bans any gun dealers from doing business in the city requires that gun owners have a state and local firearms identification card, and that handgun owners register their weapons with the Chicago Police Department (Guarino 2010). The law also bans guns from being stored anywhere except inside an actual residence and excludes locations such as garages and yards from being a place where the weapons could be stored. Although most people would not store a firearm in a garage or yard the intent of this law is clear; to prevent handguns from being anywhere except in a person's house. The law essentially is another way to get around the Supreme Court's decision by only minimally and technically abiding by the court's decision.
Additionally states have different requirements for which they will issue concealed carry permits. The website usacarry.com lists each state and US territory according to their concealed carry laws (2012). For example Ohio is considered a "shall issue" state meaning that if a resident completes the requirements to obtain the permit then the law mandates that this person should be issued this permit. Other states such as California are considered "may issue" states meaning that a person can apply for a permit if they meet the requirements but that permit may or may not be issued even if this person meets all of the requirements. The website also states the difference between states that issue permits to residents only and states that issue permits to nonresidents as well as shows which states have reciprocity agreements with each state. Finally states that do not normally issue concealed carry permits to regular citizens are listed as "rights denied." Currently Illinois is the only state that falls into this category along with the territories of American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands (uscarry.org 2012) .
The may issue laws of many states brings up another ethical question. Who can deny a permit to an eligible person and under what authority can they do so? This may vary from state to state but this leaves open the possibility for those making decisions as to whether or not to issue a permit to a certain person to make that decision capriciously based on things such as race, age, where the person lives, or political affiliation. This may not be common place but that possibility exists. In some cases the state may even be able to ban the issuance of permits de facto by order of the governor or the simple refusal to issue any permits at all. Also there may be cases in which a may issue state recognizes permits from other states that are shall issue states. In this case a resident of another state has the ability to obtain a permit in their own state and use it in the may issue state where a citizen of the may issue state may not be able to get permit.
If anyone should be trusted with ownership of weapons more than anyone else it should be those who have carried and used these weapons and defense of our nation. Yet there have been several cases of veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan and diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder only to be told that their condition bars them from owning firearms (NRA 2011). While this paper questions the ethics and the competence of gun-control laws and their enforcement there is no law or regulation so grotesquely ironic as one that takes rights away from those who have volunteered to protect the same rights. According to the National Rifle Association (2011) around 114,000 veterans and their families have been denied the right to possess a firearm based on mental health history. This occurs when a veteran who is receiving disability compensation for a service related disability has an agent of the Department of Veterans Affairs appointed to manage their disability funds. This in turn results in the veteran being placed on the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) list of individuals who are prohibited from owning firearms under the Brady Bill (NRA 2011) .
Not only is the denial of veterans the right to carry weapons grossly unjust it also discourages veterans from seeking treatment and benefits. This is especially a concern among veterans with mental health issues who may already be hesitant to seek treatment. As of November 2011 Congress had been working on a bill which updated veterans benefits and also included wording to protect veterans from this type of action however the bill has not yet passed through the Senate (H.R. 2349 2011).
With all of the cases of gun control laws being improperly enforced or improperly written there is very little evidence of these laws actually being effective in deterring crime. As stated earlier the burglary rate in which the victim is at home is far less in the United States as it is in Great Britain. UK gun laws are in near antithesis of the laws in the United States. Private gun ownership there is virtually banned. There's no evidence the British gun-control laws have actually done anything to prevent crime. In fact a BBC article in 2001 stated that since the 1997 ban of all handguns the United Kingdom rate of handgun related crimes has increased by 40% (BBC, 2001). The situation in the UK is an excellent case upon which the effectiveness of gun-control that results in an outright ban of firearms can be questioned.
In 2011 riots broke out in London and in other cities within the UK. Shopkeepers and homeowners were mostly helpless in their attempts to defend their property from rioters. Well many communities chose to defend themselves their only means of defense were melee weapons such as baseball bats (Beaumont et el 2011). Many of those who were in position where they had to defend themselves were immigrants from Asia and the Middle East. But unlike the Korean Americans in the Los Angeles riots neither the immigrants nor the local British population had adequate means to defend themselves and their property.
Throughout this paper there have been several examples about how gun-control is often resulted in additional violence and can also result in unfair and unethical enforcement of current laws. It is important to understand that to take away law-abiding population's means to defend themselves renders them helpless against criminals who have no respect for law and therefore should not be expected to obey gun-control laws in the first place if they can't obey any other laws. It is therefore necessary for a new ethical standard be developed which understands the necessity of peoples willingness to defend themselves in that it is unacceptable to make policy or take action enforcing existing policy which would prevent free men and women from being able to stand up for themselves rather than to wait for a police officer to respond several minutes later and after the crime could've already been committed.
In some cases one could make the argument out of pragmatism that if it works then the ends justify the means and the policy is acceptable but this is not the case. First there are several incidents documented in this paper that have shown the gun-control policies are ineffective and often unfair. There is no evidence that actually suggest that this gun-control actually works and to the contrary strict gun control laws have been known to result in a higher crime rate. Additionally the existing gun laws have not been properly enforced. This was the case in the fast and furious scandal in which thousands of weapons were circulated into the hands of criminals without any means to track them or to recover them before they are used to commit a crime. As we know not only did these actions fail to prevent gun violence but they actually enabled it. This was also the case in which local governments will prevent residents from owning weapons and when their policies are found unconstitutional the local governments will respond by using red tape and new regulations to make it difficult for a citizen to own weapons anyway.
The many examples stated throughout the paper have shown how gun control policy is often poorly executed, unfair and occasionally dangerous. It is not necessary to take a political position against gun control to understand that the current laws and policies are often unethical. A common understanding that the current laws are unjust and unnecessary should lead to a better more fair system in which the rights and safety of all people are to be protected.