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School of Public Health report criticizes gun laws

By JACK BARTHOLET | November 1, 2012

Last Thursday, Oct. 25, the Bloomberg School of Public Health released a report commenting critically on issues of gun control in the United States. The report, titled “The Case for Gun Policy Reforms in America,” was principally authored by Daniel Webster, who is the Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

The report, which comes just over three months after a gunman opened fire in a Colorado theater during a midnight filming of  “The Dark Knight Rises,” suggests sweeping changes to gun control policy in the United States.

According to a press release from the Bloomberg School of Public Health, the report contains  key findings.  The first examined issues surrounding mass shootings, like the one in Colorado.

“Easy access to firearms with large-capacity magazines facilitates higher casualties in mass shootings,” the report said.

However, mass shootings is not the only focus of the report.

“Mass shootings bring public attention to the exceptionally high rate of gun violence in the U.S., but policy discussions rarely focus on preventing the daily gun violence that results in an average of 30 lives lost every day,” Webster said in a press release.

“Addressing weaknesses in existing gun laws by expanding prohibitions for criminals, perpetrators of domestic violence, youth, and drug abusers, and closing the loopholes that allow prohibited persons to obtain guns can be effective strategies to reduce gun violence. It is important to note that making these changes to our gun laws would not disarm law-abiding adults,” he said.

The second key finding asserts that so-called “right-to-carry” legislation does not have a tangible effect on reducing violent crime. In fact, the report argues that such laws have a negative impact on the safety of American communities, citing that the average number of gun-related deaths is proportionally much higher in the United States than in other first-world countries.

“The burden of gun violence on American society is substantial, whether measured in years of productive life lost, disability, fear, or economic costs. The toll is unprecedented among high-income nations. Weaknesses in current gun laws contribute to this burden by establishing low standards for legal gun ownership and significant loopholes in policies designed to keep guns from prohibited persons,” the report states.

In order to remedy these alarming precedents, the report suggested, the United States must adopt restrictions on gun ownership. “The burden of gun violence on American society is substantial, whether measured in years of productive life lost, disability, fear, or economic costs. The toll is unprecedented among high-income nations. Weaknesses in current gun laws contribute to this burden by establishing low standards for legal gun ownership and significant loopholes in policies designed to keep guns from prohibited persons,” the press release explained.

In addition to the policy implications of enacting such changes, the report examined the political and constitutional consequences as well.

The report aims to refocus the debate surrounding gun control from one of abstract political opinions to one of facts and figures.

“Debates about gun control often drift towards general arguments about whether guns make us safer or less safe, and gun control is equated with restricting gun ownership. However, with recent Supreme Court decisions overturning laws which ban firearm possession in the District of Columbia and Chicago, current gun control policies in the U.S. do not disarm lawabiding adults over the age of 21,” the report states.

Additionally, the report criticized those who argue that the issues surrounding guns are caused by effective enforcement and not the laws themselves.

“A common response to calls for stricter gun control laws from opponents of reform is that there is no need to change our gun laws; we just have to enforce the laws on the books. But we do not have to choose between needed reforms and better enforcement,” the report said. “Effective enforcement of gun control laws can deter illegal gun trafficking, but loopholes, high standards of evidence, and weak penalties make it difficult to enforce laws designed to keep guns from prohibited persons. Stronger gun laws will lead to better enforcement of those laws,” it continued.

The report also examined the flawed nature of polls conducted on gun control, asserting that a recent drop in public support for stricter gun control laws is misleading. “This may be a reasonable barometer of respondents’ general attitudes toward guns and government regulation, but it tells us little about what specific policies people believe are in place, and which policies citizens support. A recent survey of gun owners found that more than half of respondents believed erroneously that background checks are required for all gun sales. In reality, most states limit background check requirements to persons purchasing firearms from a licensed gun dealer,” the report said.

In terms of the constitutionality of enacted the study’s suggested changes, the report explained that while the recent Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v.

Heller did limit restrictions of gun ownership under the Second Amendment, it also paved the way for tighter restrictions. “Since Heller, lower courts have overwhelmingly upheld the constitutionality of a wide range of gun laws other than handgun bans,” the report explained.

“Contrary to recent media reports, a large majority of the public, including gun owners, favors remedying many current weaknesses in our gun laws. There are real political hurdles to enacting new gun control laws, and the power of the gun lobby is substantial. But politicians who want to correct flaws in our current laws, which enable dangerous people to get guns, could do so knowing that there is broad support for those policies, the reforms are constitutional, and the policies would enhance public safety,” the report concluded.

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