“BANG!. . . BANG! You’re dead!” Maybe those words used to be part of a harmless children’s game. But no more. For more than 500 kids last year, those words might well have been the last words they heard. Five hundred is the average number of kids accidentally killed by guns each year. Most of the kids died when they played with guns they found at home.
Everyone agrees that such deaths are unspeakably tragic. And everyone also agrees that the 11,000 intentional gun deaths that occurred in the United States last year are another national tragedy.
Something has to be done to stop the bloodshed. But what should it be?
Many Americans favor gun control–laws that limit who can own a gun, what types of guns can be owned, and how guns can be used. But gun-control laws also have a large number of opponents–people who say that such laws will not reduce gun deaths, but will only limit freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
This month, proposed gun-control laws are being voted on in local and state elections across the country. Perhaps the most important vote is here in Washington state. For months, gun-control supporters and opponents have debated Initiative 626. Initiative 626 is a proposed law that would (1) require Washington state handgun owners to take a safety course and pass a safety test in order to own a handgun; and (2) require that all handguns be sold with childproof trigger-locking devices.
Supporting Initiative 626 are a majority of Washington state residents, according to polls. Opposing Initiative 626 are the National Rifle Association (NRA) and thousands of Washington gun owners.
What’s Wrong With the low?
What’s wrong with gun owners’ passing a test before buying a gun? What’s wrong with requiring safety locks on handguns?
Plenty, says the NRA. The organization says it is not opposed to handgun safety; in fact, the NRA states, one of its main goals is to promote handgun safety. What the NRA says it is opposed to are laws that limit the use of firearms by law-abiding citizens.
Owning a gun is a right, the NRA maintains, guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This amendment states, “. . . the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Gun-control opponents don’t believe that banning or controlling guns will help stop crime–or prevent accidents. The effect of such laws, say opponents, would be to punish law-abiding citizens by leaving them less able to protect themselves and by leaving guns in the hands of criminals, who would get them illegally.
Arguments for Gun Control
These arguments don’t convince Americans who support gun-control laws. Supporters believe that laws limiting the right of Americans to purchase and use handguns are necessary.
Supporters argue that even though such laws may not stop all criminals from obtaining weapons, they will make it much more difficult for criminals to purchase weapons and will thus give police more of a chance against people who commit crimes.
Gun-control supporters disagree with the NRA’s belief that the Second Amendment supports the right to own weapons.
“The men who wrote the Constitution could not have imagined the killing power of modern weapons, said one gun-control supporter.
What Nationwide Public Opinion Polls Show
Which side of the debate does the public support?
Most polls show that, in general, people support the idea of gun control. A recent nationwide Doll showed that 72 percent of Americans want handgun owners to be trained and licensed, and 86 percent of Americans support laws requiring all new handguns be made childproof.
Who will win the battle over Initiative 626 in Washington state?
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Gun-law opponents say they favor safety programs such as the Eddie Eagle gun course taught by the National Rifle Association, as the best way to reduce gun accidents. Supporters of gun-control say that laws are a better answer.
In any case, the cry for mandatory safety devices has been sharply reduced by gun manufacturersthemselves. In August, Smith and Wesson began shipping all pistols to dealers with tamper-proof trigger locks Other manufacturers followed.
Just last month (Oct. 9) President Clinton announced an agreement between the White House and a number of major gun makers to include child-proof safety locks on all handguns sold.
In Massachusetts, Attorney General Scott Harshturger has announced that “handguns will face the same common sense consumer safety standards as baby rattles, bicycles, teddy bears and a host of other more mundane products.”
The state action, which did not require approval by the Massachusetts legislature, would effectively ban sales of up to 30 models of guns, including so-called Saturday night specials because they do not meet common safety requirements.
Although at least 15 states have already passed a requirement for safe storage or safety locks, only Connecticut has a series of laws similar to what Initiative 626 would require.
Washington is one of eight states where more people are killed by guns every year than in automobile accidents. At the current rate of increase, however, by the year 2003, most of the states will have more deaths by gunfire than by car accident, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.