Recent gun violence sparks gun control conversation

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According to the Utah Department of Health, this graphic shows the different categories of gun-related deaths. The recent Las Vegas shooting initiated heated gun control debates in the United States. As of Oct. 13, 2017, there have been 12,102 gun-related deaths in the United States. (Haley Mosher)

Gun control is a hot-button topic. After the recent shooting rampage in Las Vegas, the controversy is again center stage.

As of Oct. 13 of this year, there have been 12,102 gun-related deaths in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

The right to bear arms has been a fundamental American right since 1791 as part of the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

BYU political science professor Ray Christensen said this particular right has persisted through time because the United States has a written constitution.

“We have a written constitution and this right was put in at the very outset, but the fundamental nature of this right was probably not unique to the United States,” Christensen said.

A 2017 poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found 54 percent of people polled supported stricter gun laws in the United States, and 57 percent of people polled believed it’s too easy to buy a gun.

Political science professor Richard Davis said he believes there is undoubtedly a tie between gun control laws and gun violence.

“It is clear there is a connection between gun control laws and gun violence. In nations where private ownership of guns is rare, there are few incidents involving gun violence,” Davis said in an email. “But there is a strong gun culture in the U.S. that stretches back to the pre-Revolutionary days.”

Looking at gun violence in Utah, gun related deaths are about average compared to the national statistics.

In 2015, the national average for gun related deaths was 11.1 deaths per 100,000 people. In Utah there are, on average, 12.8 gun related deaths per 100,000 residents annually. While Massachusetts—the state with the lowest number of gun-related deaths—only has 3 deaths per 100,000 residents, Alaska—ranked highest for gun related deaths– has 23.4 deaths per 100,000 residents.

Utah has a relatively casual stance on gun laws compared to other states in the nation. Utah gun laws do not require purchasers to have a permit or to register their firearms. State laws do, however, require that a licensed dealer perform a criminal background check on the purchaser of a firearm.

Ready Gunner General Manager Willy Ludlow said purchasing a gun is a relatively simple process aside from signing the necessary forms.

Since the Vegas shooting, Ludlow said he has noticed an increase in requests for bump stocks. The shooter used this device to rig his guns so they could fire more rapidly.

Rick Bowmer
A device called a “bump stock” is attached to a semi-automatic rifle at the Gun Vault store and shooting range in South Jordan. The National Rifle Association announced its support on Oct. 5 for regulating the devices that can effectively convert semi-automatic rifles into fully automated weapons and that were apparently used in the Las Vegas massacre to lethal effect. It was a surprising shift for the leading gun industry group, which in recent years has resolutely opposed any gun regulations. Immediately afterward the White House, too, said it was open to such a change. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

“We’ve taken a lot of calls from people interested in buying (a bump stock). We have sold all of the ones that we had,” Ludlow said.

This increase in sales is not a unique reaction to the Vegas shooting. Ludlow said often times when people anticipate a change in gun laws there is a rise in sales.

“In this industry anytime there’s a national shooting, something has happened, a law has changed or an event like this takes place, we will see a reaction from customers. We’ll sell a lot more guns or ammunition,” Ludlow said.

While the sale of some firearms or firearm accessories may increase immediately following gun violence, public opinion may not change.

Christensen said events like the shooting in Vegas and other crimes aren’t necessarily solid evidence in support of stricter gun control laws.

“This issue of crime cuts both ways. So if you are in favor of gun control, crime is the reason to get rid of all the guns. If you are in favor of gun rights, crime is one of the reasons why I need to have a gun because the state isn’t protecting me,” Christensen said. “These events sort of cut both ways, they make it seem important to both sides of the argument.”

As of 2016 California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland rank as the top five states with the strictest gun laws in the nation. Last year, California averaged about 7.7 gun related deaths per 100,000 resident and has the strictest gun laws in the nation.

Comparatively, Mississippi averages about 19.5 gun related deaths per 100,000 residents and has the highest homicide rate in the country. The state has the most lenient gun laws in the nation, allowing concealed carry without a license. Missouri, Kansas, Arizona and Idaho all follow Mississippi in gun law leniency and have gun-related death rates above the national average.

These statistics may lead readers to believe there is a clear link between strict gun laws and low death rates, but one city sits as an outlier from these statistics: Chicago.

The state of Illinois has relatively strong gun laws requiring background checks, imposing waiting periods on gun sales and requiring gun owners to obtain a license. However, in 2016, Chicago had 758 homicides, 3,550 shooting incidents and 4,331 shooting victims.

While 2016 was certainly a spike for Chicago’s gun related incidents and homicide rates, it still raises questions in the relationship between gun laws and violence.

Compared to national statistics, the amount of gun related deaths in the state of Utah is about average. Nationally, there are nearly 11.1 gun related deaths per 100,000 total population, while the state of Utah averages about 12.8 gun related deaths per 100,000 resident. (Haley Mosher)

Regardless of the stance an individual might take regarding gun control laws, Christensen said he is not certain changing those laws will decrease violence or national death rates.

“Will you no longer have domestic terrorism if you take away all the guns in the country? Obviously not, look what they do in Europe. They get cars and they just drive them through crowds of people so instead of death by gun you have death by car,” Christensen said.

Despite the complex nature of gun control laws and public opinion regarding those laws, BYU maintains a no firearms policy.

BYU prohibits firearms and weapons on campus without “specific written permission.” The policy can be viewed here.

Additionally, the University Police website has four informational videos on gun safety.

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