Gun Laws: Public Administration Research Paper

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Public Administration: Gun Laws

The disturbing images of distraught children and staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School scampering for safety as a gunman who had calmly made his way into the school compound shot indiscriminately, killing 26 innocent persons, among them 20 children are still vivid, almost three years after the incident. This was not even the first incident of mass gun violence in the country -- approximately 36 similar mass shooting incidences were reported nation-wide between 1997 and 2000. According to a 2014 report on the state of gun policy by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, approximately 70% of homicides committed in 2011, the latest year for which statistics are available, involved a firearm; and more than 100,000 persons fall victim to gunshot wounds every year. In the past, numerous policies directed at regulating gun use, possession, and commerce, have been enacted at the federal and state level to address the situation, but statistics show that the rates of firearm deaths have remained relatively high, nevertheless. There is consensus that this is due to the fact that despite their numbers, our gun laws are weak -- in fact, the weakest in the developed world. For instance, as Kates and Mauser (2007) note, it is easier to purchase a firearm in the United States than it is in any other western country. A 2012 report by GAO supports this idea, expressing that one of the reasons our gun laws have been unsuccessful is because they do not advocate for the conduction of background checks on gun purchasers. As it turns out, gun policy is one of those areas on which Congress has been least responsive, especially so, after the Background Check Bill failed to reach the 60-vote threshold that would have seen it proceed to the federal level in 2013.

It would be prudent to examine some of the gun laws that have been enforced in other industrialized nations, and then compare these with those of the U.S. Canada, which has one of the most restrictive gun laws in the world today, imposed a comprehensive gun registration scheme in 1989 following a mass shooting incident at a city university that left 14 people dead and dozens injured (Goss, 2006). The UK also placed a ban on the private possession of firearms in 1996 after a gunman shot and killed 17 people in a school in Dunblane, Scotland (Goss, 2006). Elsewhere, Australia, in 1996, banned automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons, and put in place strict regulations governing the licensing and registration of other firearms after 35 people were killed, and many more injured in a mass shooting incident in Tasmania (Goss, 2006).

Given this background, this analysis adopts an interpretivism methodology, drawing reference from various secondary sources to demonstrate that our gun policies have repeatedly failed because, unlike these countries, we tend to design our policies in such a way that they focus more on penalizing and controlling misuse, as opposed to regulating access. Moreover, as will be demonstrated, these policies are often restricted in terms of coverage; first, they have focused more on keeping firearms from particular 'crime-inclined ' groups (the mentally ill, drug addicts, felons, minors), as opposed to unavailing them to that group of vulnerable persons who show a dire need for owning firearms (stalker-threatened women, business owners in at-risk areas, security guards). Secondly, they have been decentralized, such that rather than have a uniform set of regulations governing the entire populace, we have a handful of states and cities with very tough stances on gun acquisition and use, and another section with relatively few, almost non-existent regulations. Finally, we have most of our regulations focused on circumscribing formal sales, and blatantly ignoring the informal market, which, as a matter of fact is responsible for more than half of firearm trades (Cook & Ludwig, 2003).

Two gun-control programs that have already been implemented on a large scale, but which are yet to yield any tangible effect -- imposition of a waiting period before the purchase of a gun and the conduction of background checks on buyers -- will be analyzed as the author demonstrates how the policy issues presented above have contributed to their failure.

The Conduction of Background Checks on Buyers (The Brady Law)

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was enacted in 1993 to compel states that had not been conducting background checks on firearm buyers to do so. Cook and Ludwig (2003) compared the rates of homicides involving firearms in the 18 states and the District of Columbia, which were already conducting such background checks and which were, hence, not subject to the Brady Law, against their 'Brady' counterparts.
They found that there was no detectable difference between the two; and that further, there was no significant difference between the rates of homicides in the 'Brady' states before, and after the implementation of the rule.

The Gun Control Act of1968 barred the sale of firearms to adults who had been convicted of felonies in the past, those under indictment, and minors (Cook & Ludwig, 2003). A 1996 amendment to the Act included in the list of non-eligible persons, persons who were mentally ill, illegal aliens, and those under conviction for the misdemeanor of domestic violence (Cook & Ludwig, 2003). This implied that gun sellers were supposed to carry out a background check to determine a buyer's eligibility before selling them a firearm. The Act covers both licensed dealers and non-dealers, who in this case include licensed gun owners who wish to sell their guns to other people; however, in as much as it prevents the latter from knowingly selling firearms to ineligible buyers, it does not give them an obligation to carry out background checks to assess the eligibility of their buyers, and neither does it make it a requirement for them to document any such proceedings (Cook & Ludwig, 2003). This is despite the fact that almost 60% of firearms in the possession of ineligible individuals are obtained this way. Such loopholes failing to classify the informal market, as Cook and Ludwig (2003) point out, leave a lot to be desired regarding how we formulate and implement our policies.

As the authors point out, some states such as Illinois have made these rules more stringent by requiring non-dealers to only sell their guns to buyers with a Firearms Owners Identification; failure to do so makes the dealer just as liable as his buyer, in case the firearm is used to commit crime (Cook & Ludwig, 2003). However, as La Valle (2013) points out, even in these states that have gone the extra mile to make their jurisdictions safer in terms of gun purchase and gun use, policy evaluation is made difficult by the high degree of internal heterogeneity. For instance, the cities of Chicago and Rockford are very different from Elgin and Joliet although they are all in the State of Illinois; and these internal dissimilarities tend to produce different effects, thereby obscuring overall policy evaluation (La Valle, 2013). Since this analysis is qualitative in nature, it may not be possible to ascertain what the actual effect of these disparities is, but if a statistical analysis were to be conducted using gathered data, an analysis of variance would clearly bring out these policy disparities.

Differences in laws among states is another factor that has made policy-implementation quite challenging at the federal level. The Brady Law, for instance, requires states to submit their criminal and mental health records to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), and to put in place programs allowing individuals who have been ruled ineligible by their mental status to seek relief from the same. The NICS database is supposed to be used as the core source of reference by dealers when making background checks to determine the eligibility of prospective firearm buyers. However, according to GAO, 30 states were, as at 1st May, 2012, not remitting the same, with 6 out of these raising concern about availing such records with no official court authorization (GAO, 2012).

Imposition of a Waiting Period

This program, according to Kwon, et al. (2010), is meant to reduce incidences of crimes of passion. According to the authors, the waiting period acts more like a cooling-off period for perpetrators acting in the heat of the moment. However, a 2000 study by Ludwig and Cook found that whereas this mandatory waiting period had the effect of reducing deaths resulting from suicide for persons aged 55 and above, it had no effect on the overall rates of suicide and firearm deaths.

According to Kwon, et al. (2010), the reason this program has been ineffective is because it has been restricted to the psychological factors that would drive a person to commit crime, and has blatantly disregarded socioeconomic variables such as alcohol consumption, unemployment, and poverty, which are deemed to progress over a prolonged period of time.


Numerous regulations have been put in place in an attempt to address the problem of….....

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