The past few years have been rife with highly publicized mass shootings. The tragedies that occurred at schools such as Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, inspired young people across the United States to demand action on the issue of gun control. Across the nation, young people staged protests and school walkouts to send a message to politicians that violence in the nation’s schools is unacceptable, and that the blame for these shootings should fall not just on the disturbed individuals who carried out these attacks, but the gun lobby, firearm manufacturers, and even the firearms themselves. In fact, a Pew Research report from last October found that 64% of Americans aged 18–29 favor stricter gun laws. That compares with 22% who think current gun laws are satisfactory and 14% who think there are too many gun laws on the books.
Although the lines between Millennial and Generation Z are still blurry, based on Pew Research Center’s parameters, I fall into Generation Z, or those born after 1996. Being 22, I’m on the older end of Generation Z’s spectrum. I also hold the minority viewpoint within my generation that there are too many gun laws on the books and that, in addition to being a fundamental American right, gun ownership is actually beneficial to society.
My experience with guns is a bit on the unusual side. I’ve lived my whole life in Massachusetts, a state with notoriously stringent gun laws. Oftentimes, Massachusetts is held up as a state with gun laws worthy of emulation due to its low overall gun mortality rate. It’s important to note, however, that this figure includes not just gun murders, but gun suicides, as well. When only gun murders are considered, many states with loose gun laws experienced some of the lowest levels of gun violence. For example, neighboring New Hampshire, a state with virtually no gun laws, had one of the lowest firearm murder rates in the nation in 2017, whereas South Dakota, another state with few gun laws, had the lowest firearm murder rate in the nation in 2017.
Massachusetts not only bans the pseudo-category of “assault weapons” — a term originating from Bill Clinton’s Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994 (also known as the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994) that re-classified guns based on cosmetics — but forces gun manufacturers to submit different colors of the same gun for testing before allowing them to be sold in the state. Apparently, Massachusetts regulators think the color of a gun somehow changes its function or deadliness. (It doesn’t.)
Nevertheless, my father was a Massachusetts gun owner and taught me how to shoot at the age of 14. My father passed away a few months after teaching me how to shoot, but in those months, he taught me the basics of gun safety. Always treat the gun like it’s loaded; don’t point the gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot (know what’s behind your target, too); and keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. When I turned 21, I applied for, and received, my concealed carry permit from the State of Massachusetts.
Owning a gun is controversial among people my age, especially in the Northeast. It’s not unheard of (I have a few friends around my age who also legally own firearms), but it certainly isn’t broadcast, mainly due to the stigma that young people have either placed on, or have been conditioned to accept, about gun owners. I’ve heard arguments against gun ownership from people my age varying from statistical citations about gun violence (which are vastly inflated due to the inclusion of suicides in the data pools and distorted due to the inclusion of people who break existing federal laws to obtain firearms) to ad hominem attacks portraying gun owners as selfish people who are so obsessed with their own love of guns that they are willing to turn a blind eye to mass shootings.
I’ll address the statistics in full, but the argument that gun owners don’t care about the well-being of their fellow citizens is completely unfounded. It is a narrative that unjustly vilifies law-abiding citizens who simply want a means of protecting themselves, their loved ones, and yes, even their fellow Americans, as Jack Wilson demonstrated when he stopped a mass shooting at his church in White Settlement, Texas, in December.
As far as the statistics about gun deaths are concerned, instances where dangerous individuals obtain firearms and commit atrocities do not account for the majority of gun deaths in the United States. In fact, a Pew Research study conducted in 2017 found that six in 10 gun deaths are suicides. While this high rate of suicides is alarming, gun control might not be the most effective solution to this obvious problem. When Connecticut mandated that an individual obtain a permit to purchase a handgun in 1995, gun suicides dropped. However, suicides overall also dropped during that period, preventing researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research from identifying a clear causal relationship between gun laws and suicide rates. Furthermore, according to the Center for Disease Control, suicides increased in the state from 1999 to 2016 by 19.2% despite Connecticut’s 1995 gun-control law remaining on the books and several more being enacted.
The same Pew study also states that 37% of gun deaths can be attributed to murder. While this number is indeed high, once again, gun control is not the most effective way to combat gun violence. Currently, felons are federally prohibited from owning or possessing firearms due to the Gun Control Act of 1968. That means that anybody with a felony in their record will not pass the background check that every federally licensed firearms dealer must initiate via the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), and therefore will not be allowed to purchase a firearm.
In fact, in 2019 the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found that about 10% of state and federal criminals currently serving time in prison who possessed guns while committing their crimes during 2016 obtained their guns via retailers. While 10% might seem high, keep in mind that there is no good way to predict who might be a potentially dangerous individual and therefore deny them weapons, if they have never committed crimes before. We have due process constitutionally enshrined in this country, and that means that people are given the benefit of the doubt until they are proven guilty of a crime. This extends to the Second Amendment as well.
Given the low percentage of people who buy guns at traditional retailers who then use them to commit crimes, one might wonder how, exactly, are criminals obtaining their firearms? The DOJ found that 56% of criminals who possessed guns while committing crimes either stole them, found them at the scene of the crime, or had bought them on the street. An additional 25% received their guns from friends or family members as gifts Even if there were a federal law preventing private transfers, it would be incredibly difficult to enforce. (How would one ever be able to stop somebody from giving someone else a gun unless they were kept under surveillance 24/7?) Similarly, the DOJ does not clarify whether the 25% of people who received guns from somebody else had criminal records to begin with, which would have disqualified them from gun ownership outright.
Gun control advocates routinely hazard the idea that criminals are overwhelmingly obtaining guns via private sales or at gun shows, which are enjoyed by many law-abiding citizens, and therefore more regulation of these activities is required. However, the data shows that most gun-control efforts would realistically only affect law-abiding citizens and fail to address the larger issues of mental health and criminal gun ownership in the United States.
Generation Z is still quite young. I implore others in my generation to avoid falling for the rhetoric and impure data that so many Millennials have seemingly accepted. Instead, they should actually study the available data for themselves. Gun control will surely continue to be a proposed solution to every act of terror committed by a madman with a gun. Nobody wants violent individuals to be armed, so let’s stop pretending that those of us who want a means to protect ourselves are saying otherwise. Let’s seek solutions that will actually combat the issue of gun violence without stripping Americans and future generations of their fundamental right to self-defense.