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Moot ‘right’ raises risk of dying at home

by Cesar Chelala

NEW YORK — Under the slogan “If you have a weapon you have a problem,” the Ministry of Justice in Argentina has initiated a campaign against gun ownership in the country. It began as a response to a request from several nongovernmental organizations concerned about the high levels of violent deaths in Argentina.

According to figures from the Pan-American Health Organization, 19 percent of deaths in Argentina are due to gun violence.

Although Argentina used to be considered a nonviolent society, these days a person dies in the country from a gunshot every two hours. The aim of the ministry’s campaign is to stress that gun ownership doesn’t solve the problem; it only exacerbates it.

The issue of gun ownership is particularly relevant in the United States where, according to the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, civilians own an estimated 238 million to 276 million guns.

The issue of gun ownership in the U.S. is centers on the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Opponents of gun control emphasize the last part of the sentence: “the right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” They neglect to give much weight to the first part, which names a “‘well-regulated militia” as the holders of this entitlement.

Average citizens are not the ones entitled to claim a constitutional right under the Second Amendment; rather it is those belonging to a group of civilians trained as soldiers who, in case of an emergency, must make themselves available to supplement the regular armies.

Accordingly, in a 1982 ruling, the Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit held: “Construing [the language of the Second Amendment] according to its plain meaning, it seems clear that the right to bear arms is inextricably connected to the preservation of a militia. We conclude that the right to keep and bear handguns is not guaranteed by the Second Amendment.”

Self-defense is often cited to justify the people’s right to bear arms, yet research has shown that a gun kept in a home is 43 times more likely to kill a member of the household or a friend than an intruder. Resorting to firearms to resist a violent assault has shown to increase the victim’s risk of injury and death.

In a study by Dr. Arthur Kellermann published in The New England Journal of Medicine, it was found that, excluding factors such as previous history of violence, class, race etc., a household where there is a gun is 2.7 times more likely to experience a murder than a household without one. It has been found that the number of teenagers who die from gunshot wounds in the U.S. is greater than for all other causes combined.

In separate study conducted by Jeffrey A. Roth, author of “Firearms and Violence,” it was unsurprisingly found that guns make it easier to kill or injure and that it is easier for an irrational person to cause greater damage. Lethal injuries caused by firearms have recently gone down in number, most likely due to the fact that emergency room doctors and technology are now better equipped to deal with these injuries.

Groups opposed to gun control in the U.S. spend enormous sums of money lobbying elected and government officials. Gun Owners of America spent $18 million between 1997 and 2003, and the National Rifle Association spent $11 million over the same period.

The “right” to bear arms is a step backward from controlling violence. It contradicts experience and the belief of peaceful people everywhere that eliminating guns will lead to a safer, more humane world.