Gun restrictions must not trump rights

Though not particularly prominent in this past election cycle, the issue of gun legality and control in the United States has been a cornerstone of political contention for years. Those in favor of abolishing the Second Amendment believe that doing so will decrease violence and increase safety, while opponents argue that the restriction of gun rights is an act of oppression that directly impedes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens.

This polarizing issue is unlikely to draw any compromises in ideology, but the government must find a middle ground that will simultaneously allow citizens to make the nation safer while protecting the rights of U.S. citizens.

The Second Amendment, which protects the right to bear arms, is very unique in the industrialized world. Most other nations, such as Australia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom have enacted laws to limit firearm ownership. These stipulations seem to have made a difference, as the gun-related death rate in the United States totals 10.2 per 100,000 people, according to The American Journal of Medicine.

Though gun ownership is protected under the Constitution, the concept of implementing limitations is not beyond historical precedent. Like the First Amendment, which does not protect some forms of speech such as violent threats, the Second Amendment should not completely protect all gun ownership.

While U.S. citizens should keep their right to bear arms, the government must follow the lead of other industrialized nations and enact laws that will lower gun violence and make the country safer.

It is vital that the United States crack down on the circulation of illegal firearms, as well as the private sale of weapons, which remains vastly unregulated. Based on studies conducted by professor Philip Cook of Duke University, less than 3 percent of interviewed inmates acquired their weaponry from a gun store. Cook also estimated that the percentage of crimes committed with legal guns is small. This indicates the need to pursue more aggressive measures in reducing the circulation of illegal guns.

It is also necessary to limit citizens’ access to assault weapons and guns with high ammo capacity. According to data compiled from FBI and media reports, when high-capacity magazines were used in mass shootings, 155 percent more people were shot and 47 percent more were killed.

Along with restrictions on assault weapons, there must be an extensive criminal background check and independently administered psychiatric test for prospective gun buyers, as well as a mandatory waiting period.

Currently, the waiting period ends after 72 hours, even if the background check is not completed. This allows for guns to “slip through the cracks” and wind up in the hands of criminals or others who would ordinarily have been deemed unfit to possess them. Psychiatric tests would also presumably help in restricting gun access to those who are mentally unfit to own a gun.

Although gun restrictions have the potential to make society safer, it is important that legislation is not taken so far that it impedes upon individual freedom. In order for society to truly be free, every decision the government makes cannot be based on overall safety. For example, while a mandatory curfew or uninhibited police access to personal property may serve to reduce crime, it would also be an unacceptable governmental overreach. The argument can be made that preventing law-abiding citizens from owning any guns whatsoever is also a form of governmental overreach.

For many, gun ownership is a symbol of freedom and a pillar of U.S. history. A large number of law-abiding citizens view guns as a literal weapon of the people that allows them to fight oppression, much like the colonists did in the American Revolution. Though the fear of an oppressive system like that of Great Britain in the 18th century may seem far-fetched, the Second Amendment was written to ensure that such a structure would never become a reality.

Despite legitimate arguments on both sides of the gun control issue, people are understandably quick to resort to anger and unable to understand the opposition. How could people be okay with the high rates of violence connected with firearms? Why would so many be willing to throw away protective freedoms?

The United States is a society of wide-ranging priorities and ideologies, but above all, it is important that citizens remember who they are as a nation. The country was founded on the notions of independence and as a result, its citizens must ensure that it operates and works to create a safe, productive society within, somewhat ironically, the confines of freedom and liberty.