Policy-Making Issues and the Second AmendmentResearch Paper

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Policy Brief: Gun Law Changes

The highest and most authoritative source of law in the United States is the Constitution and its several amendments. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution makes it clear that the Founders believed gun ownership was a fundamental right and all public policies flow from this right. As a result, making substantive changes to the nation's gun control laws requires more than a simple local referendum but rather involves making an amendment to the Constitution itself, an arduous process that doomed the Equal Rights Amendment. Despite this constraint, gun control advocates continue to push for more stringent guidelines and argue that current gun laws exacerbate crime levels. Conversely, opponents to changes in gun control laws counter that not only does the Constitution guarantee these rights, guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens actually reduces crime rates. To determine the facts, this paper reviews that relevant literature concerning public policies and gun control, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Review and Analysis

Application of public policy analysis tools and methods to gun control and supporting rationale

Together with Social Security, there is no quicker way for American politicians to get voted out of office than to advocate changes in the nation's gun control laws. Indeed, when most members of the powerful National Rifle Association believe that "gun control means using two hands," implementing more restrictive changes to gun control laws can result in highly charged reactions. In this regard, Utter (2000) emphasizes that, "Gun control is a fascinating public policy area that creates extremely emotional reactions among those who oppose further restrictions on firearms ownership" (p. 7). Using public policies analysis tools such as models and simulations, organizations such as the National Rifle Association and the National Association of Federally Licensed Firearms Dealers argue that the possession of guns by law-abiding citizens serves to reduce rather than increase crime rates in the United States. Likewise, by applying policy indicators, these groups cite various gun-related statistics that show that accidental gun deaths in the United States have actually decreased over the past 30 years during a period when gun ownership rates increased significantly (Utter, 2000).

Moreover, critics of changes in existing gun control laws consistently play their trump card by pointing out that "gun ownership is a constitutional right, and licensing and registration cannot be imposed on a constitutional right" (Utter, 2000, p. 205). The latter half of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution clearly states that ". . . The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed," but the former half qualifies this right by noting that "a well regulated militia [is] necessary to the security of a free state." Although the debate over the precise meaning of this terminology continues, gun control opponents routinely cite the Second Amendment in support of their position.

Evaluation, application and explanation of economic analysis models

Gun control opponents maintain that the so-called "crime-bureaucratic complex" in the United States which is comprised of attorneys, insurance companies, elected officials, and the courts all profit from current crime levels and have a vested interest in seeing fewer Americans carrying guns for their own protection (Utter, 2000). A multivariate statistical analysis of the effectiveness of state-level gun control laws by Kwon, Scott, Safranski and Bae (1999) found that gun control laws have a statistically insignificant impact on the number of gun-related deaths. These researchers, though, also found that socioeconomic factors such as a state's unemployment rate, poverty and alcohol consumption levels have a profound effect on gun-related deaths (Kwon et al., 1999).

These findings indicate that a better use of scarce taxpayer resources is directing resources at social programs to counter these socioeconomic factors rather than an attempt to effect significant changes in the nation's current gun control laws (Kwon et al., 1999). In this regard, Kwon and his associates emphasize that, "Studies of the effectiveness of gun control laws and regulations must not ignore other pertinent variables that may contribute to committing crimes, especially socioeconomic variables" (1999, p. 42). Furthermore, advocates of changes in the nation's gun control laws that attempt to use economic analyses that fail to take these critical socioeconomic variables into account are not evaluating the complete scenario. As Kwon et al. conclude, "Excluding these important variables from the model building process, and claiming that gun control laws and regulations are solely responsible for any change in crime rates, is too simplistic" (1999, p. 42).

Application of processes to measure equity in public policy analysis and evaluation of resulting findings

In a democratic society, equity in public policy is an essential element for acceptability and legality, and is used to evaluate different alternatives to identify optimal approaches. For instance, according to Rossell (1999), "Equity, efficiency, effectiveness, and political feasibility are criteria for choosing policy alternatives" (p. 155). Balancing the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans with the need for improved law enforcement capabilities, though, is a challenging enterprise by any measure. As Spitzer (1998) points out, "The gun control battle is, above all, a struggle over public policy. The gun policy struggle is one in which elephantine political forces battle over policy mice" (p. 136). In some cases, opponents of guns in America are unable to detach themselves from their personal views about weapons and the constitutional right to bear arms in the United States today. According to one authority, "Harvard School of Public Health Professor Deborah Prothrow-Stith, who studies the subject, admitted, 'I hate guns, and I cannot imagine why anyone would want to own one'" (cited in Doherty, 2008, p. 81).

Application and evaluation of practices of incorporating public advocacy in policy-making

In this context, public advocacy means:

1. Pleading for, defending, or recommending an idea before other people;

2. Speaking up, drawing a community's attention to an important issue, and directing decision makers toward a solution; and,

3. Working with other people and organizations to make a difference (Brieger, 2006, p. 37).

Therefore, in order to effect meaningful changes in the nation's gun control laws requires public advocacy that not only identifies a problem but takes steps to mobilize like-minded citizens in making these changes. While the first two approaches represent a starting point for educating the American public concerning the need for changes in gun control laws, the third approach is the most important because of the longstanding views held by many Americans concerning their rights to own firearms. For instance, according to Doherty:

In many parts of America, thinking that guns are bad and dangerous and that it's wrong to allow so many people to have them marks you as beyond the pale of respectable citizenry, a quisling to the American revolution, a disgusting half-human unwilling or unable to bear the necessary burdens of both citizenship and basic humanity. (2008, p. 82)

Critiques of public policy analysis and advocacy example with evidence of citizen participation, and recommendations or assessments

Today, millions of American citizens participate in public policy and advocacy through their representation in various organizations that are devoted to safeguarding gun ownership. For example, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is comprised of four million gun-owning citizens and is strongly allied with the Republican Party (Dreyfuss, 2000). As a former spokesman for President Clinton, George Stephanopoulos, pointed out: "They're good citizens. They call their congressmen. They write. They vote. They contribute. And they get what they want over time" (cited in NRA history, 2014, para. 3). On the other side of the argument, organization such as Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and The Brady Campaign that advocate changes in the nation's gun control laws to make them more restrictive field just a few hundred thousand members and lack the monetary and political clout that gun control opponents such as the NRA wield in the U.S. Congress (Dreyfuss, 2000). In sum, not only do opponents of existing gun control laws face a formidable lobbying force, they have the U.S. Constitution to deal with as well.

Conclusion

The research showed that protecting Americans' Second Amendment rights to own guns is the touchstone by which politicians are judged by many voters. The arguments in support of changes to the nation's gun control laws may be well reasoned and compelling, but they fly directly in the face of the constitutional right to own, sell, buy, trade, collect and otherwise use guns of all sorts as Americans see fit within the laws of their jurisdictions. The research also showed that public policy analysis tools and methods as well as economic analyses have been used by gun control opponents to prove their case, arguing that guns in the hands of law-abiding Americans actually reduce crime rates rather than exacerbating them, and that advocates of changes in gun control laws have a vested interest in reducing gun ownership levels. In the final analysis, it is reasonable to conclude that making substantive changes to the nation's gun control laws will require more than a grassroots-level operation, but rather a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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