There is No Silver Bullet for Gun Control: A Rebuttal to "Battleground America" by Jill Lepore

In an ideal world, there would be no crime, and there would be no violence.  Unfortunately this idealistic vision of the way it should be is not possible.  There is violence, there is sorrow, and there is danger in American society. Crime is rampant in the inner cities.  Deranged killers threaten citizens’ safety and security. Numerous proposals have been made in attempts to halt the violence.  In response to this, Jill Lepore, author of “Battleground America: One Nation under the Gun,” makes the case that gun control is essential to public safety. Lepore seems to go even further than the gun control movement, and pushes for the total ban of guns, or as she calls them; “a cannon that you can carry,” “a machine made to fire a missile that can bore through flesh.” Her well-intentioned argument, heavy on anecdotal evidence, falls short in several key areas.  Gun control does not address the key causes of this violence, and banning weapons does little to prevent crime. She contends that the National Rifle Association is solely responsible for popularizing gun rights, but these have consistently been popular and constitutionally protected. Lepore’s narrow focus on gun control, while ignoring the causes of gun violence, the problems of gun control, and the legality of her ideas, is misguided and dangerous.

A majority of mass shootings in America have been committed by the mentally ill.  The movie theater shooter in Aurora, Colorado, the attempted assassin of Gabrielle Giffords, and the killer at Sandy Hook Elementary School all had some form of mental disorder.  Lepore entertains the notion of having citizens store weapons in colonial-era arsenals, but that is fanciful and unfeasible.  A solution that would work would be improving the quality of mental health care and working to remove the stigma of mental illness.  The majority of mental health care spending is disbursed on prescription drugs and outpatient spending, and only a fifth of funding actually goes towards inpatient treatment.  This shift began in the 1960s; the exact time that Lepore claims was the beginning of the gun rights movement.  She talks about the rise of the “rights revolution” but omits the movement for the rights of the mentally ill. This movement worked to move treatment out of institutions and into the community. Unfortunately, this push for civil liberties ended up reducing treatment quality dramatically, and “the sickest patients have begun turning up in jails and homeless shelters with a frequency that mirrors that of the late 1800s.” This focus on civil liberties is costing public health and safety, and keeping the preeminent treatments away from the citizens who need them most. Mental health care is also very expensive, and its access is extremely limited. Many who need it most cannot afford it, and those who need it also worry about suffering ill-treatment due to the stigma attached to mental health problems. Steps need to be taken to reduce the negative stereotypes associated with mental illness so people are not worried when they attempt to seek help.  Funding needs to be increased for research into treatment, and a possible revitalization of the institution system is obligatory. Although mental health institutions may have restricted civil liberties, it kept potentially dangerous people away from the general populace and allowed them to recover and undergo treatment in a neutral environment.  If Jared Lee Loughner had received treatment for his problems, Gabrielle Giffords would still be a Congresswoman and six Americans would not be dead.  If psychiatry treatment was more readily available, Seung-Hui Choi could have been diagnosed and helped before killing thirty-seven people at Virginia Tech University in 2007.  The broken mental health system is the main problem behind gun violence in the United States, not the possession of firearms.  “Battleground America” neglects the underlying causes of many mass shootings, and Lepore consistently engages in the fallacy that the events she describes are the only events that have occurred. There is more to the problem of gun violence in America than that, according to nameless “critics” who probably number just Lepore and her editor, “no single organization has done more to weaken American’s faith in government, or in one another, than the NRA.”

The central argument of the gun control movement is that gun control reduces crime and violence. Using anecdotal evidence, Lepore attempts to prove that the only solution to gun violence in America is to ban guns.  She mentions the Chardon High School shooting, the death of Trayvon Martin, and the Oikos University shooting, which all occurred during the same time period, to support her case. The Chardon killings were committed by a teenager who had mental problems, and stole the gun used, which gun control would not stop.  One L. Goh, the shooter at Oikos University, was a paranoid schizophrenic who did not receive proper treatment. Trayvon Martin was killed in what Lepore insinuates was a racially motivated crime. In her summary of the attack, Lepore neglected to mention eyewitness testimony that determined that Martin attacked the shooter and broke his nose, and that the shooter, George Zimmerman, shot him in apparent self-defense.  She gives detailed accounts of these shootings and sums these up by stating that “The NRA has no comment.” This is a move to deflect blame from the real criminals-the perpetrators- onto the National Rifle Association.  She reinforces this accusation with the statement that “Although the rates of gun ownership, like the rates of violent crime, are falling, the power of the gun lobby has not.” This comment attempts to leave the reader with the impression that the gun lobby is power-hungry and that the NRA does not believe that gun control will reduce the rates of violent crime. Lepore has made it clear throughout her essay that “No civilian population is more powerfully armed [than the Americans]” and insinuates that gun violence is more prevalent in America than in the rest of the world. In terms of the number of murders with firearms, this is true. The United States has the fourth highest amount of murders with firearms in the world, behind only South Africa, Colombia and Thailand. Looking at only the amount of murders with firearms, however, is not a holistic view of violent crime. The United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France and Denmark, all countries with strict gun control, have much higher assault and rape victims per capita than the United States. Australia, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Spain all have higher burglary rates than the United States.  Even countries with strict gun control aren’t immune to gun violence, as Anders Behring Breivik in Norway managed to murder nearly eighty people, proving that strict gun control does not totally eliminate the risk of mass shootings.  So while the amounts of gun deaths are higher in the United States, which is reasonable when taken in proportion to the large population and amount of guns in the country, the amount of violent crime in general is higher in the European countries with high gun control. Gun control reduces gun violence only, but ends up increasing the overall crime rate.  The presence of guns in America allows law-abiding citizens to defend themselves, unlike their European counterparts, who are incapable of protecting themselves from the crime which runs rampant across the streets of London, Rome and other storied cities.  The absence of guns does not a safer country make. When looking at all 29 mass shootings with over 4 people killed in the US since 1999, the vast majority occurred in “gun-free zones,” which are intended to make citizens safer, but unfortunately it has the opposite effect.  Shopping malls, schools, workplaces, all have been targets; all are gun-free zones.  The only shootings that have been stopped before the killer either finished or ran out of ammunition have been stopped by citizens with guns.  A study by two respected economists examined many gun control policies, including some of Jill Lepore’s favorites such as waiting periods and background checks, and concluded that only concealed carry laws have the power to decrease the amount of mass shootings in the United States.  When looking at the most recent example in Clackamas, Oregon, the shooter shot two people and was about to kill more when he was stopped by concealed-carry permit holder Nick Meli, and the perpetrator decided to kill himself rather than be stopped or arrested. Meli’s gun was illegal under the “gun-free zone” enacted by the mall, but was otherwise legal in the state of Oregon. Jill Lepore maintains that carrying a weapon is “not how civilians live.” Not carrying a weapon is how many of these civilians died.  If the teachers at Sandy Hook, Red Lake, Columbine, Virginia Tech and others had been able to protect themselves, so many deaths could have been averted.  Gun control only serves to take guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens, but criminals who already intend to commit a crime will not be concerned about breaking another law. The guns stay with the criminals, and civilians are left in the lurch. Lepore is well-intentioned, but as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Her good intentions put civilians at risk and threaten American lives.

George Washington observed, “Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples’ liberty’s teeth.” The purpose of the Bill of Rights is to make certain rights unalienable so that no matter the laws enacted in the future, these essential rights stay with the people. Unfortunately for Lepore, this includes the right to bear arms.  Lepore obsesses for several paragraphs on the concept of arsenals and militias. She seems to think that if not for the NRA, citizens would keep their weapons in the local armory for the mayor to pass out in times of trouble. This is simply not feasible.  Not only are gun rights enshrined in the Constitution, they have been protected by the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court struck down Washington D.C.’s handgun ban in District of Columbia vs. Heller and defined handguns as “arms” to be protected by the Constitution, and this decision was extended to the rest of the country in McDonald vs. Chicago.  Lepore shows her bias here, as she does not contest any other law, article, or amendment but makes a point that she does not find these decisions as valid. She does not say “District of Columbia vs. Heller” she makes sure to mention “District of Columbia vs. Heller…in a 5-4 decision,” to make it seem like the decision is less legitimate because it was a close vote. She repeats this tactic by referencing another pro-gun rights case, McDonald vs. Chicago. Plessy vs. Ferguson, the infamous “separate but equal” decision, was 7-1, but it was a horrible decision that launched a reprehensible era of segregation in America. A close decision does not mean that it is wrong, no more than a landslide decision makes a decision correct. All Supreme Court decisions are equally lawful unless overturned by a later Supreme Court.  Insinuating otherwise merely serves to mislead the reader.  She also tries to defend her positions on gun control by citing a General Social Survey run by the National Policy Opinion Center that states, “the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades.”  Lepore neglects to mention that the NPOC is being run by the Violence Policy Center, which according to its website is “[a] national educational foundation working to enhance gun control in America.” Essentially, her source for proving that guns are unpopular has a vested interest in making it appear like there is a decline in gun ownership.  Lepore attempts to discredit inconvenient sources, but only the polling she used contained significant bias. This poll is directly contradicted by the respected polling firm Gallup in October 2011 which reported that “Self-Reported Gun Ownership in U.S. Is Highest Since 1993” and that “forty-seven percent of American adults currently report that they have a gun in their home or elsewhere on their property”. She cannot prove that gun ownership is declining, and the law and Constitution enshrine the right to bear arms, no matter the weeping and gnashing of teeth of Lepore and her supporters.

When it all comes down to it, gun control is a well-meaning, but flawed policy.  Government and regulation cannot save this nation from gun violence.  More mental health and research into the causes of violent crime is needed to help stop crime before it even begins.  Gun control is not an efficient way to prevent crime, and leaves citizens defenseless to the dangerous world around them.  Lepore attempts to use a popular appeal, but her statistics were flawed and her attempts to discredit the Supreme Court and the Constitution fell short. Lepore endeavors to do what is best from the way she perceives it, but she looks at a narrow aspect and an even narrower solution.  A broad view is needed for the issue of gun violence in America, something that is never taken in “Battleground America.”  All options need be explored, as there is no single “silver bullet.” If nothing is done, gun violence will get worse, but pursuing Lepore’s options lead down a path to a more dangerous and violent, albeit gun-free, society. America is at a crossroads, and Americans must turn away from gun control to save the nation from drowning in the chaos of ceaseless violence, and finally becoming Western Europe societally, in addition to economically.