Have Gun Laws Made Us Safer?

NRA (National Rifles Association) firearm instructor teaching gun safety.
NRA (National Rifles Association) firearm instructor teaching gun safety.


Picture this: it’s Gresham, Oregon 9:50 PM, December 28th, 2023. You’re walking home from a party. Maybe one of your friends was supposed to take you home but it didn’t work out. Now you’re running late, and you’re worried that your mom and dad are going to be upset, completely unaware of how little that is going to matter in about five seconds. You cross Southeast Orient Drive at Southeast Anderson Road. You’re listening to music, and when you hear some people shouting up ahead, you turn the volume up. Mind your business. It’s as you pass them by that something happens in a flash: a pop, a burning sensation on your side, then a warm wet feeling going down your hip. You tear the earpods out, just as there’s another loud pop coinciding with another burning sensation, a feeling of being pierced, lanced, run through with hot metal.
You’ve been shot.
You don’t collapse to the ground so much as the ground leaps up to meet your face. Then you lay bleeding, confused, in shock and agony and you hear screaming– but it’s not your own. Suddenly every moment is precious. How did this happen? Finally there’s a man wearing a uniform, somewhere above your vision saying, “Can you hear me?” But you can’t seem to answer and there’s a rage you feel because you didn’t do anything wrong to get shot for, and there’s confusion because this all happened so fast, but then an immense exhaustion falls over your crumpled form like a heavy blanket and you let yourself close your eyes.


On December 28th, just before 10 p.m. a man was killed after being shot during a physical
confrontation on the corner of Southeast Oriental Drive and Southeast Anderson Road in Gresham, Oregon. Further Away, on New Year’s Eve, a three-year-old girl in Memphis, Tennessee was hit by a stray bullet and killed by what was described as “celebratory gunfire.”
On the Fourth of July 2023 a two-year-old girl in Polk County, Oregon got hit by a stray bullet.. Again it was just part of the celebration. The bullet dropped from the sky and found her in her pull wagon. The little girl’s mother later recalled, “”I just saw her body stiffen. I didn’t know what was happening. Once she got her breath back, she started to scream and I’ve never heard her scream like that before. She was in so much pain.”
Stray bullets are exactly what they sound like. Stray bullets cause damage, injury, and sometimes even death. When a bullet misses its intended target, it still has to go somewhere.
Think about that the next time you want to pop a few rounds off– you know– celebrating.


Banning guns wouldn’t stop people from getting shot– but it sure would make it less likely– kind of like how seatbelt laws don’t keep people from dying in car accidents, but they do make a huge difference. Look at the UK, where guns are banned– an average of only 4% of homicides are shooting-related. How about homicide rates overall? Wouldn’t those people who kill people find other means? No. Those murders don’t happen. The United States has four times the homicide rate per capita that England has. And it’s not like they don’t have guns in the UK either–In 2020, CBS News reported that “over the last 3 years– over 900 illegal firearms were seized in the United Kingdom.” This within itself is a sign that while gun laws aren’t foolproof, they do make homicide less likely to happen.
Because, yes, homicides still happen. People have been killing people since Cain slew Abel. But why not make it just a little bit harder?
One problem with changing the laws to make us four times less likely to be murdered comes from wildly different interpretations of the US Constitution and the Second Amendment, which demands “a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” But what does that mean– “bear arms”? Does it mean muskets and flintlock pistols like those available in 1789, when the Second Amendment was made law? How are magazine-loaded AR-15 rifles, capable of shooting over forty deadly rounds a minute, in the same category as muskets?
Why not tanks? Armed drones? Why not conceal-and-carry nuclear explosives?


There are some lights in the darkness. Somebody realized that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms— but not the right to own bullets, and so in December of 2022, a narrow percentage of Oregonians managed to squeeze Measure 114 into law, prohibiting high-capacity magazines and requiring a more lengthy background check for people purchasing firearms. Measure 114 hasn’t– and won’t– put a stop to gun crimes, but it does make it harder to shoot the really deadly ones. As could be predicted, Second Amendment enthusiasts have come swinging lawsuits, calling Measure 114 unconstitutional due to its large-capacity magazine ban, saying exasperatedly that the whole idea of a firearm is to shoot it and you need bullets to do that.
We have other gun laws in Oregon too– for instance you have to be 18 years old to purchase a rifle and must be 21 years old to own a handgun. ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms), has rules and regulations too. Breaking gun laws could get you a felony, but
that is only if you are caught (or not filthy rich).
Even though they’re a start, the various and feeble gun laws we have in the United States do not stop gun crimes, so what can we do?
We can start by tackling gun culture. We can try to change how we perceive guns or tolerate those among us who treat guns like toys. We can stop buying media that glorifies gun use or associates gun use with machismo, coolness or power. Take down that Scarface poster. We can demand limits on how realistically film and in what context first person shooter games portray the murder of innocents. We can stop future generations from getting desensitized to gun violence until the day happens to them. We can vote for level-headed politicians who would regulate a high-powered rifle like it was a stick of dynamite. After all, is dynamite illegal? Nope– you just need the proper training, a good reason, and a permit to use it.
And look– it’s a miracle– no more stray-stick-of-dynamite deaths.

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