Difficulty of Starting a Gun Control Debate Essay

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¶ … difficulty of starting a gun control debate in the United States. At first blush, the topic itself seems ridiculous. Between the NRA and extremist groups on the left, one would assume that the United States already has a vigorous gun control debate. However, these special-interest groups do not comprise the entirety of the public sphere. On the contrary, they are only a small portion of the public sphere, and their positions, rather than encouraging real debate between people, with the goal of leading to compromise and resolution, only exacerbates the existing notion that the two sides are irreconcilable. This conclusion is directly opposed to what researchers know about American attitudes towards guns and gun control. Therefore, this essay will focus on what it would take to start a real gun control debate in the public sphere in the United States.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Essay on Difficulty of Starting a Gun Control Debate Assignment

The public sphere can be a difficult concept to grasp. It is frequently considered the area where the private sphere and public authority overlap. However, that explanation is erroneous. The public sphere does not necessarily demarcate the overlap between the private sphere and public authority; instead it is its own individual space, which mediates between the private sphere and public authority. "The public sphere is the space of communication of ideas and projects that emerge from society and are addressed to the decision makers in the institutions of society. The global civil society is the organized expression of the values and interests of society. The relationships between government and civil society and their interaction via the public sphere define the polity of society" (Castells, 2008). At this moment, much of the modern gun control debate may appear to occur in the public sphere, but it is driven by private interests and public authority. The best example of this would be the "shares" and "likes" one sees regarding gun control on social media sights such as Facebook. Although they are shared by people on a public forum, and, therefore, appear to be part of the public sphere, when one tracks the origins of these various memes, it becomes clear that the vast majority of them are originating from a limited number of groups in the private sphere. Therefore, while the debate might nominally be occurring in the public sphere, it is not doing so in a way that allows the public sphere to perform its function as mediator between the private sphere and public authority. However, this increase in debate and discussion in all three arenas: the private sphere, the public sphere, and among the public authorities, increases the likelihood of true gun control debate in the public sphere.


The idea that one needs to start a gun-control debate in the United States probably seems redundant to any person watching any modern American media. After all, particularly in the wake of the recent killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it appears that most of America is openly discussing gun culture and gun control. On some level this is true; gun control is a hot topic of discussion at the present time. However, when one pays attention to what is being discussed, it becomes clear that the main people talking about gun control are those with entrenched positions. Moreover, they are people or organizations that may have taken a role in the public sphere, but that clearly represent interests in the private sphere. "The contending parties occupy antagonistic and apparently irreconcilable positions. This is not so unusual, campaign or 'pressure' groups often take more extreme positions than mainstream public opinion" (Squires, 2012).

The problem with the gun control debate is that the people exercising their rights in the public sphere to discuss these issues, rather than expanding upon the irreconcilable positions offered by the private sphere extremes on either side of the issue, have ramped up support for the extremist positions. This is notably true for people who believe that endorsing gun control is the same thing as endorsing abolishing the second amendment. What becomes fascinating is that most Americans do favor or support some type of regulation on guns. Exactly what they support can vary from American to American and from group to group, but background checks, restrictions on the ownership of assault weapons, gun registration requirements, and waiting periods all find substantial support in the private sphere. However, the support for these measures is drowned out by rhetoric when the discussion is translated to the public sphere. This may be because "most Americans also believe that stricter laws may lead to the taking away of all guns, something that the vast majority opposes. This latter perception leads some of the public to oppose gun control measures as a whole, even if they do not disagree with specific legislative proposals" (Blendon et al., 1996).

Therefore, it would appear that the first step to encouraging a public sphere gun control debate would be to define what gun control means and explain the implications of gun control. However, these attempts appear to be facing an uphill battle because of the way that a small sector of the private sphere has dominated discourse about gun control in the public sphere. "Looking at categories of political websites focused on issues such as gun control, abortion and the U.S. Congress, it does show that some categories of sites are more concentrated than others. Yet even though the study finds hundreds of websites in each topical community, the majority of links are divided up in each case between less than a dozen sites. According to Pennock et

al.'s model, all of these areas of political content look like the winners-take-all patterns found in online retailing, and not at all like the more diffuse patterns found among photographers or university homepages" (Hindman, 2008). In other words, the citizen who ventures forth from the private arena to take part in the gun control debate is confronted with an overwhelmingly homogenized argument, regardless of which side of the debate that person is on.

Another problem with the gun control debate in the public sphere is that many private sphere actors simply lack sufficient knowledge about the laws and about constitutional discourse to have an intelligent debate about the Second Amendment and what it guarantees. The language of the Second Amendment protects gun ownership, but it protects gun ownership so that the citizens could establish a militia for self-defense, which was critical in a time before the United States had an established military or even established police forces. "To the founding fathers, leaving an individual without a gun to defend himself was immaterial in light of the public need for that firearm. Guns were privately owned, but, in a sense, they were assets to be used if necessary for the public good" (Winkler, 2011). Moreover, the Supreme Court has been reluctant to extend the Second Amendment's guarantees beyond that facial promise; the idea that the Second Amendment protects any individual's right to own a gun for personal protection, hunting, or other personal uses has only limited support in case law or American legal tradition. However, those are the reasons that many pro-gun advocates list in support of their opposition to gun laws.

Furthermore, there is an attitude, fostered by those in the private sphere, that gun control serves no purpose. The popular phrases say something like, "If you criminalize gun ownership, only criminals will buy guns." Furthermore, people point out that there are a number of existing gun laws, which do not prevent gun violence. In fact, this existence of current gun laws is a puzzling part of the public sphere debate about gun control. "The existing gun laws are enough to reassure many people that something is being done, thereby defusing pressure for larger steps to be taken. Indeed, one of the arguments invariably invoked against passage of any new gun control measure is the apocryphal claim that there are already more than 20,000 gun laws on the books in the United States. If all those laws have not made us safe, the argument goes; enacting one more law surely will not make a difference. The end result is that most of the public is skeptical of the effectiveness of gun control laws even while it favors their adoption" (Rostron, 2008). In some ways, this statement is true, as even the strictest gun laws possible would not deter criminals from buying weapons. However, in many ways those statements are also terribly misleading; the vast majority of gun violence in the United States is not committed by those who would be considered criminals, but by family members, friends, and those intent on harming themselves. These people are not targeted by existing gun laws.

Furthermore, there is somehow the notion that enforcing gun laws would not eliminate mass-murder episodes. "As Tulane law professor Stephen Griffin observed on a blog just a few hours after the shootings at Virginia Tech, the phrase 'you can't prevent something like this' is 'surely one of the most demoralizing and misleading memes ever released… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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