James Jacobs on Gun Control

Taking into consideration a number of recent shootings that were both tragic and abhorrent, such as those in San Bernardino, Newtown, and Aurora, it’s no wonder that many Americans feel so strongly that more gun control is necessary.  In contrast, one can also see how the strong regulatory sentiment has led to gun-owners to feel threatened, a feeling that has helped fuel gun sales.

Emotions often fuel the debate on gun control, with one side shouting about the deaths of innocent people over the other side’s chants of civil liberties and the Second Amendment. A voice seldom heard in the debate, however, is the voice of reason, which the Levitt Center recently brought to Hamilton College in a lecture series by James Jacobs, a scholar who has researched gun control extensively for over 20 years.  His considerable research supports the conclusion echoed by gun rights advocates that gun control is not the answer.

Jacobs casts doubt on the breadth of the problem of gun violence and many of the statistics that proponents of gun control often use. For example, those trying to shed light on the problem of gun violence sometimes cite misleading statistics, like the 32,000 firearms deaths seen in 2011, without noting that 60 percent of those deaths were suicides. 

Similarly, these statistics often lack scope, like the fact that on average smoking kills 480,000 people per year. In 2011, cigarettes caused 15 times as many deaths as firearms.

Jacobs also notes the confusion about gun classification and what qualifies as an “assault-weapon,” an ambiguous term often misused by proponents of gun control. As Jacobs notes, an assault weapon is simply a term for semi-automatic rifles and some handguns which have at least two military-style features.

While the prospect of “military-style” features may seem frightening and unnecessary to many who assert that assault weapons have no purpose but in acts of violence, these features include things such as a flash suppressor, which makes shooting in poor lighting easier and is helpful to hunters. Other examples of military-style features include a folding telescopic stock, which makes the gun easier to transport.

Opponents of assault weapons fail to realize that no added military features of the gun make it any more dangerous than it would be without these features, as they do not shoot faster or use different bullets from non-assault weapons. 

Jacob’s lecture series helped to dispel many of the myths typically perpetuated by those in favor of gun-control. He used statistics to back up his assertions and, while taking a more pro-gun stance, he acknowledged the arguments of both sides and explained how he reached his conclusions, an approach many fail to take when it comes to the sensitive topic of gun control. 

While many walked away still disagreeing with Jacobs, this lecture series helped in part to assuage perhaps the largest fundamental issue in the gun control debate: those in favor of gun-control lacking a comprehensive knowledge on the very tools they want to restrict at the expense of subsistence hunters, sportsmen, and those who feel more safe when in possession of a firearm. 

With a heightened understanding of the issue, perhaps more people will see that taking away people’s constitutionally granted rights is not the answer to the problem of violence in America.