Both positions raise the specter of Big Brother, Sheley argues.
Attempts to reduce crime through gun control fly in the face of centuries of gun useand the huge number of guns already in existence. And it can only be accomplished by inserting government further into peoples lives, he says.
On the other side, seriously reducing gun-related crime through criminal justice and prosecution efforts alone would require an almost military occupation of the country, and grant police much more power.
Sheley suggests, is to examine the social distribution of gun problems.
We need to look at the groups that
use and misuse guns and see what it is that sets them apart socially,
economically and culturally from non-users and legal gun users,
Gun control first surfaced as an issue in the 1920s. But it wasnt until lately, says Vizzard, a former agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, that a candidates stand on the issue has been used to paint the opposition as either a pro-gun right-wing redneck or an anti-gun pinko liberal.
In the interim, legislators defied such easy definitions. In fact, pro-gun forces, such as the National Rifle Association, and gun control advocates have actually flip-flopped on issues such as licensing and waiting periods.
For example, the gun control lobby hopedand the NRA fearedthat the newly elected Democrats of 1974s Watergate Class would be staunch liberals who would easily pass anti-gun legislation. As it turned out, that group was suspicious of government and reluctant to give government more control, Vizzard says.
At the same time, the NRA was taking a similar Libertarian stance against government interference, launching the strategy that they still use today, Gun laws are persecuting Americans.
That anti-government sentiment kept the gun debate on the back burner until the 80s when gun control roared back with a vengeance. Politically-charged gun control issues came to the forefront including measures against so-called cop-killer bullets and assault weapons, andperhaps the most hotly contested of them allthe Brady Bill.
Not only did these issues pit liberal against conservative, in some cases they splintered groups that were formerly on the same side. The largely symbolic issue of cop killer bullets put the NRA in opposition to the police. It drove a wedge between the cops and the NRA, even though there was never such a thing as a cop killer bullet, Vizzard says.
The Brady Bill was similarly symbolic since most states already required the background checks called for in the law. Nonetheless, it fueled a whole round of accusations and finger-pointingalong highly partisan lines.
The lesson from all this, Vizzard argues, is that legislation crafted for political ends provides limited utility and defies implementation and enforcement. Implementation of the assault weapons bill, for example, got bogged down because nobody can define an assault weapon, he says.