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Paul Heroux Headshot

Guns: Helping Crime or Hurting Crime Prevention?

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On Monday night last week, when the U.S. House Of Representatives voted to raise the debt ceiling, for a moment, Democrats and Republicans wholeheartedly came together when they saw U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) defy the odds. After having been horrifically shot in the head in January in Arizona resulting in traumatic brain damage, she was talking, walking and smiling.

We are fortunate that gun violence is not common in the Attleboro area. But it is common in many areas of Massachusetts and throughout the United States. Some communities are all too accustomed the unwanted background noise that gun violence is associated with. Alternatively, no one thinks gun violence is going to strike a quiet community.

Gun violence in America is a fact. But there also exists a legal gun culture that acts in accordance with the law and under the protection of the Second Amendment. So how do we balance this? And how much do we know about gun violence?

Proponents and opponents of guns make reference to the use of guns in crime and for safety purposes. One argument holds that there are about 11,000 gun homicides each year in the U.S. but that there are some 60,000 to 80,000 gun defenses that occur each year. Another argument holds that while there are 60,000 to 80,000 gun defenses each year, there are some 600,000 gun crimes each year. While it has been said that without a citizen's ability to defend oneself with a gun there might be more crime each year, it has also been said that if there are no guns then there will be no gun crime. Point-counter-point statistics will go on and on.

Partisans on any side of an issue do more harm to their cause than good when they cherry pick or misuse statistics and marginalize the important points that an opposing side makes. Either way, it seems empirical evidence in either direction isn't what will win or prove the case for either side on this issue. Here, statistical evidence is a talking point.

Hunters and gun enthusiasts don't want criminals or people who will abuse guns to have guns; anyone can agree with this. The illegal use of guns complicates the legal use of a gun by hunters and gun enthusiasts' legitimate activities. The US has more guns in citizen hands per capita than any other country in the world by a factor of at least 2:1. And with about 500,000 guns stolen each year, how do we keep guns out of the wrong hands?

One very effective anti-gun violence measure is the controversial 'stop and frisk' procedure. This does not give police free reign to stop and frisk anyone they would like; doing so would lead to violations of the Fourth Amendment. And it does not affect hunters or sport shooters. Rather, using a very specific catalogue of behaviors that have been proven indicative of illegal gun carrying behavior, the 'stop and frisk' procedure helps police better able to detect who is likely illegally carrying a gun. This has been tried, tested, re-tested and done all over again in various urban gun hot spots throughout the country -- it decreases gun violence.

Another way to decrease gun violence is to close specific loopholes at gun shows. Criminals know that they can buy guns at gun shows without a background check since gun shows don't require background checks. This should change; gun shows should be required to do criminal background checks. Doing so would not interfere with law abiding hunters or gun enthusiasts' recreational activity, but it would help keep guns out of the hands of certain people.

Lastly, the firearm homicide rate for children under 15 years of age was estimated to be 16 times higher in the United States than in 25 other industrialized countries combined. Considering this -- and that so many guns are stolen annually -- it is a no brainer to keep guns secure at home and legislation and education to support this is important.

When both sides realize that they are on the same side of the most important aspect of this issue, which is the preservation of human life, we might make some progress in decreasing gun violence. And when both sides of the issue understands and respects the important points that the other side holds in terms of way of life, i.e. a legal gun culture, as well as communities free of guns, we might see some progress in better gun laws for all.

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