Another mass shooting, this time at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., where alleged shooter Aaron Alexis killed 12 and injured many others, is igniting another round of the gun regulation debate in America. Law enforcement officials are certain to review Alexis’s mental health condition, as well as what weapons he used in the massacre and how he obtained them.
While these and many questions remain to be explored in coming days, Matt Bennett’s Brookings Essay on the history of gun laws and attempts to legislate better gun safety in the wake of the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT, provides some useful context. “When we compare ourselves to other countries (using the latest data, from the 2007 Small Arms Survey),” Bennett wrote:
we find that the U.S. has by far the highest rate of private gun ownership in the world: 88 guns per 100 people. (Next on the list is Yemen, at 55 guns per 100.) At the conservative estimate of 270 million guns, Americans have stockpiled almost half of the privately owned firearms in the world.
The overwhelming majority of those guns are in the possession of responsible, law-abiding adults. But that leaves plenty that are not. The question confronting lawmakers is how to stop a legal product from getting into the hands of those who would use it for illegal purposes.
To learn more about the history of gun laws and current attempts to keep guns out of the wrong hands, download and read Bennett’s essay, “The Promise: The Families of Sandy Hook and the Long Road to Gun Safety.”