It seems that the issue of violence and gun control both in Canada and the United States will remain for long and not fade away easily. Guided by history itself, the arguments both in favor and against will be almost the same as it has been. While in case of Canada the law is mainly federal, the main part of the firearms regulation for USA is at the state level. This issue of gun politics mainly being at the state level in US results from the fact that most North Americans are not supportive of strict gun control as a viable option for control of urban violence. These people often believe that a professional criminal with a gun might make the lives of the ordinary people troublesome because many such people might not be able to adequately defend themselves against the dangers of the urban lifestyle. This paper argues in this regard that mere control of the supply of these firearms or restricting the access is not the way out of this problem. A right balance needs to be struck between the demand and the supply side of these weapons for the sake of effective control of violence and crime.
Wellford et al. (2007) found that there are about 258 million privately owned firearms and 93 million handguns in the United States (Braga & Pierce, 2005). This huge pool can serve the juveniles and others in various ways, mostly illegal. The firearms ultimately ending up being illegal usually generate from the controlled or uncontrolled legal sources. The problem is related to the fact that the market is not secured enough and needs to increase expenses and legal risks involved with the gun supply to the criminals (Braga & Pierce, 2005). There are other causes also related to violence and need serious intervention.
With the easy access to the firearms the criminals and also the basically non-criminal youths or juveniles tend to settle their causes with using one. The rate of gun violence and related murder increased in the entire nation during the last decade or so. An example of Philadelphia alone can be used to cite 110 murders during the first few months of 2007. The total number of murders was 406 in 2006 registering to be the highest in the decade. Though it is seen that the rate of overall criminal activities has decreased from 104,658 in 1999 to 85,493 in 2006, the rate of murder nearly doubled during this period. Most of the big cities with unemployment rate of more than 25% showed similar criminal incidents involving firearms and youths (“Philadelphia Crime Dips while Murder Soars”, 2007). One of the main reasons of such increased rate of violence during the last decade in the United States involving both criminals and non-criminal youths can be stated to be the easy availability of firearms. There is an urgent need to control such crime and the people of the United States along with the police and the legal authorities have been engaged in crime prevention for quite some times now.
The police have launched several campaigns to prevent violence related to firearms. Demand side strategies have been adopted by increasing number of officials to get involved to patrol specific areas of attention. The police department for information sharing and violence prevention is convincing the communities and social service agencies. The major drives that have been launched are “Operation Safer Street”, “Operation Ceasefire”, “Project Safe Neighborhood”, “Project Exile”, etc. The legal authorities began charging homicide against every person who used firearm-causing death. Another very important measure is being proposed related to the decrease in number of firearms available through supply side strategies. The police department is trying to convince the legislature for stricter regulations regarding acquisition of firearms. According to them limiting the purchase can reduce accessibility to the handguns and other arms thereby restricting gun violence (“Philadelphia Crime Dips while Murder Soars”, 2007).
Keeping in mind the popularity of firearms among the US public, there are people who opine that restriction of gun supply is not feasible in the US. It was also found that many of the criminals do not own a gun and do not use one during incidents like robbery. Though there are lack of researches and evidences, still some policy analysts believe that supply side enforcement to reduce access to the firearms by the criminals or other prohibited persons can be used fruitfully in a gun rich environment like the United States in controlling gun violence (Braga & Pierce, 2005).
The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is responsible for regulating firearms commerce and enforcing Federal firearms laws. The US Government invested a lot of effort and money to control illegal gun markets serving the criminals. The market of firearms in the US comprises of primary market through Federal Firearms Licensees and the secondary unregulated market with unlicensed individuals. The secondary market is more feasible for the criminals as no record keeping or checking is required here. Both these markets are interdependent and restriction in primary market may increase the popularity of unregulated secondary market as suggested by Cook et al. in 1995 (Braga & Pierce, 2005).
Theft from legal owners or purchasing from corrupt licensees and even the use of fake identity to purchase guns make the important sources of firearms from primary markets also. Illegal gun market contains both diffused and point sources and stricter regulation in point sources can reduce illegal trafficking. Increased price of purchase may also be helpful as the criminals may tend to buy less and sell more firearms reducing the period of possession and thereby reducing the use of firearms in crimes. But both of these solutions lack enough evidences. “Operation Ceasefire” in Boston adopted strategies to disrupt illegal gun market focusing on diversion of new handguns as the youth and criminals showed preference towards new guns compared to the old ones due to their existing criminal records. Gun violence seriously decreased following “Operation Ceasefire” but it was not evident whether it was due to less availability of guns or for any other reason. It was also seen that the criminals continued to possess guns at that time although not used them (Braga & Pierce, 2005).
Thus it was seen that supply side strategies alone are not much helpful to control gun violence. Rather the demand side strategy involving communities after proper training is also helpful for the police in identifying violence prone areas and the persons involved in criminal activities. Thus reaching the root of the problem is much easier with demand side strategies to remove the cause of crime and the criminal (Serpas, 2005). The combined effort of both the strategies may be more helpful in crime prevention.
- Braga, A.A. & Pierce, G.L., (2005). “Disrupting Illegal Firearms Markets in Boston: The Effects of Operation Ceasefire on the Supply of New Handguns to Criminals”. Criminology & Public Policy, Vol. 4(4): 717-748.
- “Philadelphia Crime Dips while Murder Soars”, (2007). Juvenile Justice Digest, Vol. 35 (10): 3.
- Serpas, R.W., (2005). “Illegal Gun Crimes: A View from the Streets”. Criminology & Public Policy, Vol. 4(4): 807-814.