In the wake of the tragic shootings in Tucson, Ariz., this January, the nation’s hearts and prayers have gone out to those affected. But curiously, little attention has been paid to the fact that Jared Lee Loughner, the shooter, was able to get so close to a U.S. congresswoman with a lethal weapon. As a nation, we should ask how this type of thing can be prevented from happening again in the future. The answer is a nationwide ban on handguns.
Though one might think a handgun is less dangerous than a shotgun or a rifle due to its small size, it is precisely because of this size that handguns are so deadly. Unlike a shotgun or a rifle, a handgun can easily be hidden in someone’s jacket and brought into a crowded area without arousing any suspicion. This is why national tragedies like the Columbine shootings and, more frequently, small-time convenience store robberies involve handguns in the overwhelming majority of cases: the gunman has the element of surprise. I’d go as far as to say that the shooters in question might never have been able to reach their targets undetected if they could not so easily hide their weapons.
The benefits of a handgun ban would run along those exact lines. Imagine a world where police officers and would-be victims alike could look into a crowd and immediately see who around them is carrying a lethal weapon. A rifle or shotgun would be too large to simply stick in one’s pocket, so anyone carrying a gun would have to wear it visibly, or carry it in a large and conspicuous bag. If our law enforcement officers can anticipate potential threats, then they can do a much better job of responding quickly and preventing shootings before they happen.
Despite this, any ban on firearms is a very controversial subject in American politics. A handgun ban was proposed in Washington D.C. a few years ago, which the Supreme Court overruled in a 5-4 decision. The Supreme Court, of course, has been known to change its mind in dramatic ways throughout history, and I think the merits of a handgun ban stand regardless. Though any government regulation on firearms is often called unconstitutional, the government already limits the weapons civilians buy. If you don’t believe me, try buying a rocket launcher or an AK47.
Similarly, there is no need for handguns. Any purpose that a handgun might serve — such as hunting or defending oneself — can also be accomplished by a shotgun or rifle, without the added threat of concealment. In fact, if one wishes to defend oneself from potential attackers, a visible weapon would work much better: the sight of the gun would deter any potential assailants before the weapon ever has to be used.
I have also heard it argued that a ban on any type of gun would be useless, as criminals would still be able to purchase their guns on the black market. Gun advocates often go further to say that any ban on weapons would put citizens in danger by preventing them from using the same kinds of guns as criminals. Excluding the arguments I’ve already made about the usefulness of other firearms, this claim is still ridiculous. Does the fact that some individuals will inevitably break a law prevent it from being passed in the first place? A ban on handguns would still place a huge obstacle in the paths of potential shooters. Yes, there would be some professional groups who would overcome this obstacle, but the less-connected and more common small-time criminals would not. If Loughner had been carrying a shotgun in Tucson, he would never have been let near Congresswoman Giffords (D–Ariz.) with it.
A gun represents the power to end a life and no matter how many background checks surround gun purchases, there is no way to fully tell how that power will be used. But if handguns were banned in the U.S. and potential killers were limited to using weapons visible from a distance, civilians and authorities alike could have some warning before their lives are in danger. And sometimes that warning is all the difference between a would-be killer in handcuffs and a string of bodies in the morgue.