As part of a collaboration with the National Writing Project, this is the first in a series of teacher-created educator guides on key topical issues. Written by two NWP-affiliated high school English and media arts teachers – Kirsten Spall of Natomas Charter High School (Sacramento) and Chris Sloan of Judge Memorial Catholic School (Salt Lake City) – the guide helps teachers explore and navigate the highly-charged political and emotional issues behind the topic of gun control. Based on content featured on The Lowdown, the guide provides ideas for integrating the issues into English language arts and social studies curriculum. It includes Common Core Standards Alignment, a synopsis of key background information, integration tips, and lists of issue pros and cons, creative writing prompts and best classroom practices.
The battle over gun control boils down to a tug-of-war between maintaining our rights and ensuring our safety. Specifically, the issue is about the balance between Americans' constitutional right to bear arms - as spelled out in the Second Amendment -- and the desire that almost all of us share to live safely without the threat of being harmed by gun violence. The U.S. has the highest gun ownership rate in the world, and the most gun-related deaths of any industrialized country. It also has some of the loosest gun control laws. A mass shooting in December 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn resulted in the deaths of 27 people, including 20 young children. The tragedy revived demand for tighter gun control laws, but groups like the National Rifle Association fiercely opposed any new regulations. And despite strong public support, an effort in the Senate to enact universal background checks and other moderate new measures was narrowly defeated this spring. But gun violence in America continues unabated. (w/ EDUCATOR GUIDE)
In the last 30 years, there have been at least 62 mass shootings in 30 states, from Hawaii to Massachusetts.
That’s according to reporting by Mother Jones, which produced a comprehensive series examining gun deaths and gun control in America (in which mass shootings are defined as incidents where four or more people are murdered in a public place).
Next week, the U.S. Senate begins debate on a set of gun control proposals that came about largely in response to the mass shooting last December at Sandy Hook. While lawmakers remain fiercely divided on the issue, there remains, at least, a general acknowledgement that mass shootings happen far too frequently in this country, and that action of some kind is needed to prevent future tragedies of such magnitude. Continue reading
Compared to other high-income nations in the world, America isn’t unusually violent; we’re just unusually lethal.
That’s according to David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. He argues there is a direct connection between the U.S. being leaps and bounds ahead of any other industrialized country in terms of overall gun death rates and gun homicides — and the fact that we have the highest gun-ownership rates in the world
“We are a nation which does not have more crime or more violence,” Hemenway said during a forum on gun violence held shortly after the Newtown shooting. “We are an average nation in terms of assault, robbery, and (non-firearms) homicides.” What distinguishes the U.S., he notes, is our rate of gun violence: “The United States has a very horrific gun problem … 85 people a day dying from guns from all sorts of injury … Compared to the other developed countries, we are just doing terribly.” Continue reading
Gun control advocates say yes. Gun rights folks beg to differ.
Big surprise on that one, huh?
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an advocacy group pushing for tougher regulations, assigned every state a grade based on 29 different policy approaches to regulating firearms and ammunition. California topped the list with an A-. (New York – which now requires background checks for ammunition sales – has since surpassed California in the toughness of it’s gun laws. It’s the first state to enact such legislation following the Newtown shooting. And debates have begun in a handful of other states – including California and Colorado – to strengthen gun laws there.) Continue reading
When it comes to gun laws in the U.S., we’re as far from united as it gets. Beyond the loose set of federal regulations that everyone must follow, there are 50 unique state laws and even more individual county and city rules. It’s resulted in a confusing tapestry of gun regulations that vary drastically depending on where you happen to be. There’s variation in anything from background checks and handgun permit requirements to the sale of semi-automatic weapons and waiting periods. Even rules on allowing firearms on college campuses, in bars, or even in churches can differ across certain state lines.
Federal Gun Law
Federal regulations apply to everyone. But due largely to the intense lobbying efforts and political influence of the gun industry and gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association, these laws have been significantly stripped over the last two decades (see our gun control timeline); they’re now far and away the loosest (and vaguest) of any industrialized country in the world. States must meet the basic requirements, and then have the option to enact some stricter regulations … if they choose to do so.
Federal law prohibits buying or transferring firearms across state lines, owning machine guns and other certain high capacity devices, and bringing guns onto school zones (“except as authorized”). Under the law, you also can’t buy or possess a gun if you’ve been convicted of domestic assault or other serious crimes, dishonorably discharged from the military, or if you have a restraining order against you. The prohibition also includes fugitives, drug users, illegal immigrants, and those deemed mentally ill or institutionalized. Continue reading
Explore the map below for detailed figures on each state’s firearms-related homicide rates for 2010 and 2011. For every state except Alabama and Florida (which post their own records), data are taken from FBI records. The darker the shade of blue, the greater the number of gun homicides in a state for every 100,000 residents living there.
In 2011, the highest gun homicide rate (per 100,000 residents) in the nation was, ironically, in the city where the nation’s gun control laws are decided: Washington, D.C. The rate there was 12.4 (actually down from 2010). A close second was Louisiana, with a rate of 10, followed by Mississippi, with 7.4. California, the most populous state, has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country as well as the greatest number of overall homicides (1,790) and the most gun-related murders (1,220). In 2011, the state had a gun homicide rate of 3.25 (per 100,000 residents).
Regardless of where you stand on gun control, the fact remains that America is one gun-toting country. There are 89 guns for every 100 civilians, according to the 2011 Small Arms Survey. That amounts to roughly 270 million guns owned nationwide, far and away the highest gun ownership rate in the world. With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. is home to anywhere between 35 and 50 percent of all civilian-owned guns on earth.
And while America certainly does not have the highest firearms-related homicide rate in the world (it ranks 28th), our rate is more than four times that of any other industrialized country (including all of Europe, Japan, Australia, Turkey and India): in 2011, there were well over 9,000 gun-related homicides (nearly 70 percent of all homicides committed), or roughly three per 100,000 population, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. That’s about 20 times the average rate of all other developed nations, according to the Washington Post.
In contrast, Great Britain has a gun ownership rate of about 6 guns for every 100 civilians. Last year it had 41 gun-related homicides, or .07 per 100,000 population. Meanwhile, Finland, where there are 45 guns per 100 civilians, had only 24 gun homicides in 2011, a rate of .45 per 100,000 population.
The infographic below, produced by Good Magazine and Column Five, further illustrates America’s deep and exceptional love affair with the gun.
Editor’s Note: The U.S. rate of gun ownership was previously stated incorrectly: there are 89 guns for every 100 civilians (NOT: 89 out of 100 civilians own a gun).
When asked, during the second presidential debate, about their respective positions on assault weapons, both candidates gave only vague responses. Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney offered any indication that they would would push for stronger gun control laws.
In case you haven’t been paying attention for the last, say, 40 years, gun control has long been a thorny issue in American politics, partly because of the ongoing heated debate over how the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted, and partly because of the National Rifle Association, a powerful lobbying group that has successfully dissuaded ranks of political leaders from pushing for more restrictive firearms legislation. Continue reading