Gun Control Assignment
Guns and Violence
While firearms historically have been used in the United States in ways that some consider to be
nonviolent, such as hunting and for sport, their use has also been consistently prevalent in
violent acts such as assault and homicide. In addition, many Americans own guns for the
purposes of defending themselves and their property. According to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), guns were responsible for 39,707 deaths in the United States in
2019. Of these, 23,941 were suicides. Nonfatal firearm injuries are more common than firearm related deaths. In 2021 the gun violence prevention organization Everytown for Gun Safety
estimated there are over two hundred gun-related injuries every day in the United States. The
CDC reports that 70 percent of medically treated gun injuries in 2019 resulted from violent
Everyday gun violence in the United States stems from crime, intimate partner violence,
accidents, and suicide. In addition, mass shootings have become increasingly common. These
events typically involve one or two assailants who use firearms to kill and injure many people,
usually in public places, and are most commonly defined as a single incident that leaves at least
three people dead. Mass shootings have occurred in public schools, nightclubs, religious centers,
movie theaters, grocery stores, and other spaces where people generally operate under a
reasonable assumption of safety. Policy makers and the public remain divided on the best ways
to prevent gun violence and mass shootings without encroaching on individual gun rights.
Concerns about guns and violence were heightened in 2020 when sales of firearms increased in
the United States as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic worsened preexisting
economic, social, and political tensions and mental health issues.
The United States has higher rates of gun deaths than most comparable
industrialized countries. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data
indicated nearly three-fifths of gun deaths in the United States were self-inflicted in
Many experts contend the high rate of civilian gun ownership in the United States is
the most significant contributing factor to the country’s disproportionately high
rate of gun deaths. Beginning in 1996, the Dickey Amendment created significant obstacles for policy
makers and researchers of firearms-related issues, as the CDC interpreted it as a
ban on research into gun violence.
In 2020 Congress appropriated $25 million to the CDC and the National Institutes of
Health (NIH) for the express purpose of funding research on gun violence, marking
the first federal support for such projects in twenty-four years.
Mass shootings at schools and in other public places have spurred national debate
over how to ensure public safety without infringing upon gun rights, as gun rights
advocates criticize attempts to regulate sales and enforce gun control laws as
A sharp spike in firearms sales followed the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in
2020, contributing to a significant increase in gun violence and renewing calls for
Gun Violence in the United States
Compared to most other high-income industrialized countries, the United States consistently
experiences a disproportionately high rate of gun violence, according to the Institute for Health
Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a project of the University of Washington. After removing gun
deaths from armed conflicts, accidents, and suicides, the IHME determined there were 4.12
violent gun deaths per 100,000 people in the United States in 2019. The US rate was over one
hundred times higher than those of comparable industrialized countries such as the United
Kingdom (0.04) and Japan (0.02) and nearly four times higher than some lower- and middle income countries such as Syria (1.00). In some parts of Latin America, however, rates far
exceeded the US rate, with countries such as El Salvador (35.5) and Venezuela (32.75)
experiencing eight to nine times the rate of violent gun deaths than the United States in 2019.
Determining the root causes of gun violence can be difficult. Several experts have suggested a
link between economic factors, such as low employment and education levels, and higher rates
of gun violence in a community. However, the IHME determined the US rate of violent gun deaths
would be 0.79 per 100,000 people, or about one-fifth the actual rate, if socioeconomic status
could be used as a reliable predictor. Experts from diverse academic fields have examined
whether particular characteristics of US history, politics, and culture may make the country more
susceptible to gun violence. Scholars have theorized a wide range of contributing factors
including the country’s history of conquest, politics of individualism, and cultural glamorization of
firearms in film, television, and other mass media.
Many gun control advocates contend the United States experiences higher rates of gun violence
because gun ownership, and especially private ownership of more than one gun, is much higher
than in other countries. In 2018 the Small Arms Survey, a project of the Graduate Institute of
International and Development Studies, found that US rates of civilian gun ownership in 2017
surpassed every other country. The US rate of 120.5 civilian-owned firearms per 100 people was
more than twice that of Yemen (52.8), the country with the second-highest per capita gunownership. Additionally, the Small Arms Survey estimated that US civilians own over 393.3
million, or about 46 percent, of the 857.4 million civilian-owned firearms in the world.
Studying Gun Violence
Part of the difficulty in addressing gun violence in the United States comes from a lack of
comprehensive data and actionable research, especially as compared to other public health
threats such as tobacco use and automobile accidents. Since the mid-1990s, gun violence
research has not received significant levels of government funding due to the Dickey
Amendment, a provision added to the 1996 Congressional appropriations bill and renewed each
subsequent year. The provision stipulates that federal funds provided “for injury prevention and
control” to the CDC cannot be used to “advocate or promote gun control.” The funding
restrictions were extended by Congress to all agencies within the National Institutes of Health
(NIH) in 2012.
The Dickey Amendment does not explicitly ban the funding of gun violence research. However,
the CDC avoided funding any firearm-related research out of concern the agency would be
penalized. The CDC was concerned the gun rights organization the National Rifle Association
(NRA), which had been central to the bill’s passage and devoted millions of dollars to ensuring its
renewals, would allege any firearms-related research violated the Dickey Amendment, likely
leading to litigation and penalties. Researchers and gun control advocates credit the amendment
with preventing the allocation of funding and discouraging scientists from seeking grants.
Limitations on research contribute to data inconsistencies and can impact policy. For example,
the CDC, which tracks gun deaths using its National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS),
received 670 reports of firearm fatalities carried out by law enforcement via NVDRS in 2018. The
same year, the Washington Post, which has maintained its own database of fatal police shootings
since 2015, documented 990 fatal shootings by police officers. In addition to research
restrictions, policies allowing state agencies to opt out of submitting data to NVDRS contribute to
such discrepancies. The NVDRS surveillance system received data from only 80 percent of states
in 2018. Incomplete data can lead to inadequate, ineffective, and underfunded policies.
In the 2010s multiple efforts were made to renew funding for projects studying gun violence
despite the Dickey Amendment. Following the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary
School in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barack Obama ordered the CDC to resume its gun
violence research and requested Congress grant the agency $10 million to fund it. However,
these actions did not result in any meaningful change in how the CDC collects and analyzes gun
violence data. In 2018, following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in
Parkland, Florida, Congress added language to the amendment allowing the CDC to conduct
research into gun violence but barring it from advocating gun control. However, no funds were
marked for CDC-supported research on gun violence that year.
In 2019 Congress passed its annual spending bill for fiscal year 2020 with $25 million
appropriated to the CDC and NIH for the purposes of funding gun violence research. In
September 2020 the CDC awarded its first round of grants supporting gun violence research intwenty-four years. Additional CDC and NIH grants were announced in 2021. Funded projects
included those tracking violent gun deaths, identifying the demographics of gun ownership,
examining the relationship between firearm availability and suicide vulnerability, and developing
programs for youth that move beyond basic safety to discuss risk factors for common types of
gun violence, among many others. The Gun Violence Prevention Research Act was introduced in
the US Senate in early 2021. If passed, it would authorize $50 million to the CDC each fiscal year
for the following five years to study gun violence, firearms safety, and gun violence prevention.
Critical Thinking Questions
What types of measures, if any, do you think would be most effective in reducing
gun violence in the United States? Explain your answer.
Do you support Congress enacting the Gun Violence Prevention Research Act? Why
or why not?
Do you agree with the contention that the main contributor to disproportionately
high rates of gun violence in the United States is the high rate of private gun
ownership? Why or why not?
The Impact of Gun Violence
The effects of gun violence extend well beyond the immediate impacts of gun-related deaths.
Many victims of gun violence survive but have immediate and ongoing health care needs, such as
surgeries and long-term rehabilitation, which may be a financial burden. In addition, victims,
families, and communities mourning the loss of life and coping with the anxieties of living under
threat of further violence often require mental health services. Other effects of gun violence
include direct costs, such as the long-term costs of incarcerating individuals who engage in
criminal gun violence. In addition, researchers note the indirect costs, which include lost wages
and impact on quality of life as determined by jury awards in victim lawsuits and security
enhancements made to schools or places of business following mass shootings.
People have responded to high-profile incidents of gun violence, such as mass shooting events,
in different ways. Proponents of gun control often propose new legislation in the hopes of
preventing future tragedies. Mass shootings also tend to be followed by spikes in firearms sales.
Fearful of any new laws that might restrict access to guns, many gun rights enthusiasts respond
by purchasing more guns. School shootings frequently lead to debates about the best way to
protect students, including proposals to provide firearms and training to teachers and other
school officials. Entrepreneurs and corporations have sought to capitalize on school shooting
anxieties by offering products such as bulletproof backpacks and ballistic shelters.
American youth have become increasingly vocal in response to gun violence. Following the 2018
shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, students organized a national school
walkout and the March For Our Lives, a protest calling for gun control legislation. Student
walkouts related to gun violence have become more common, particularly those in protest of
police shootings of unarmed civilians. In April 2021, for instance, students as young as sixthgrade walked out to protest the killing of Daunte Wright in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The killing
spurred wider protests and debates about the use of firearms by law enforcement, as the officer
who shot Wright claimed she had confused her sidearm for her Taser.
With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020 came increased
economic insecurity, rising social unrest, and record-high gun sales in the United States.
According to industry trade group the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted 21 million background checks for firearms sales in 2020,
which surpassed the previous annual record—15.7 million in 2016—by 34 percent. The spike in
sales was largely driven by first-time gun owners, with the NSSF estimating that nearly 5 million
people purchased a gun for the first time in 2020.
Increased sales were accompanied by increased firearms-related injuries and fatalities. By
October 2020 the year’s gun homicides had already exceeded the 2019 total. Further, mental
health experts expressed concern that rising gun sales and worsening economic conditions
would likely exacerbate the national suicide crisis. According to the Gun Violence Archive, at least
43,561 people lost their lives due to gun violence in the United States in 2020. Everytown for Gun
Safety published Gun Violence and COVID-19 in 2020: A Year of Colliding Crises in May 2021. The
report indicated there were almost 4,000 more gun-related deaths and over 9,000 more gun related injuries in 2020 than there had been in 2019. Increased sales persisted into 2021. The
NSSF reported over 2 million firearms sales in January 2021, representing a 75 percent increase
compared to January 2020.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2021 Gale, a Cengage Company
Source Citation (MLA 9th Edition)
“Guns and Violence.” Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2021. Gale In Context:
Opposing Viewpoints, link.gale.com/apps/doc/PC3010999127/OVIC?
u=parkcol_main&sid=bookmark-OVIC&xid=edc1d86d. Accessed 14 Nov. 2021.
Gale Document Number: GALE|PC3010999127
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