Photo illustration by John Lyman

U.S. News


Revisiting the Gun Control Debate

With at least 19 people dead in Maine, including the accused gunman, the gun control debate has once again been pushed to front and center. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been over 560 incidents of mass shootings in the United States this year. They define a mass shooting as an event in which four or more individuals are either injured or killed.

Over the past three years, the United States has experienced more than 600 mass shootings annually, averaging nearly two per day. One notable incident was the deadliest mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, resulting in the deaths of over 50 people and leaving 500 others wounded. Notably, the majority of mass shootings result in fewer than 10 fatalities.

Maine has among the weakest gun laws in the country. In 2015, Maine enacted a permitless carry law, granting Mainers the right to carry loaded handguns openly or discreetly in public without the need for a permit or background checks. This law permits individuals aged 21 and above, or those who are at least 18 years old and either on active duty or honorably discharged from the military, and who are legally eligible to possess firearms, to carry firearms openly or discreetly. No permit is necessary for the possession of rifles, shotguns, or handguns. Maine also does not require background checks for handgun purchases at the point of sale or for permits to purchase.

For these reasons, Maine, many people claim, has gun laws that are too lax. At the same time, on the other side of the country in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed gun-control amendment to the U.S. Constitution was defeated.

California is trying to toughen gun laws but is experiencing pushback. Newsom’s proposal, which he said would not impact the Second Amendment, would add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would raise the minimum age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21, mandate universal background checks, ban assault rifles for civilians and impose a waiting period for all gun purchases.

Determining the precise count of privately owned firearms in America poses a considerable challenge; nonetheless, according to the most recent data provided by the Swiss-based Small Arms Survey, it was estimated that in 2018, there were approximately 390 million firearms in circulation within the United States.

This represents an extraordinary – and alarming – firearm ownership ratio, standing at 120.5 firearms for every 100 residents. This ratio significantly outpaces that of other countries, underscoring the uniquely high prevalence of firearms among the civilian population in the United States.

With such vast gun ownership, it is interesting to note that a majority of Americans are in favor of gun control. 57% of Americans surveyed said they wanted stricter gun laws – although this fell last year – according to polling by Gallup. 32% said the laws should remain the same, while 10% of people surveyed said they should be made “less strict.”

The Maine and California examples stand at two ends of the gun debate spectrum. There is an in-between stage though.

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts State House passed a comprehensive gun control bill aimed at strengthening firearm regulations, addressing the issue of unregistered “ghost guns,” and bolstering the state’s ban on assault-style weapons.
The bill, which garnered approval with a vote of 120-38, encompasses several key provisions. It would make it illegal for individuals to enter someone’s home with a firearm without their consent and necessitate the serialization and registration of essential gun components with the state.

This substantial 125-page legislation, championed by Democratic Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald Mariano, is, in part, a response to a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming the right of U.S. citizens to carry firearms publicly for self-defense. The proposed measures within the bill include the prohibition of firing guns in close proximity to residences and carrying firearms while under the influence. It also restricts the carrying of firearms in sensitive locations such as schools, polling places, and government buildings.

Additionally, the bill expands the state’s existing ban on assault weapons by banning the purchase of AR-15-style firearms and prevents the conversion of legal firearms into illegal automatic weapons. Notably, the proposal introduces an enhanced system to trace firearms used in criminal activities, with the aim of reducing the influx of illegal firearms into the state. It also modernizes the current firearm registration system while increasing the accessibility of firearm-related data for academic and policy purposes, according to statements from lawmakers.

There are robust ways to prevent guns from ending up in the wrong hands – the question is whether our representatives in all 50 states have the motivation to pass the legislation needed to achieve this.