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Gun Control in America: Student Discussion Guide

In the wake of gun-violence incidents in American schools and based on the recommendations of Vice President Joe Biden’s task force, President Barack Obama proposed a comprehensive package of firearm regulations.

The package, a combination of Executive Orders and legislative proposals, was designed to limit who may legally purchase a gun and the types of firearms that are available for purchase.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

To that end, the President put before Congress a set of laws that would be the most stringent since those passed in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

While there was a groundswell of support for this type of government action, guns-rights activists remained strictly opposed to many of the President’s proposals.

In April 2013, the state of Connecticut (where the Newtown school shooting occurred) passed the country's toughest gun control law. The law's provisions included a first-in-the-nation statewide dangerous weapon offender registry, a ban on the sale of large-capacity magazines, universal background checks for gun sales, and a ban on assult weapons.

That same month, the U.S. Senate rejected vital elements of Obama's proposed national legislation including background-check provisions, a ban on rapid-firing assault weapons and limits on the size of ammunition clips. The national legislation remains pending on the Senate calendar.

With gun regulation and school security dominating the national discussion, educators may want to address these issues with their students. With that in mind, Education World offers the following discussion guide to help grade 9-12 students understand why these issues are important and how gun laws might change.


Discussion Starters

Introduction:

Would fewer people owning guns mean there would be fewer gun-related deaths? The question sounds simple, but is actually quite complex. We often begin the discussion by comparing the U.S. to other nations, yet this always has to be done carefully, since laws and cultural beliefs/norms certainly affect individual behavior with regard to whatever amount of guns may be present in a given country.

Let’s take a look at the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and talk about President Obama’s response to the gun violence issue, as well as various thoughts and opinions that people have on the topic of gun control.

NOTE: With question 10, encourage students to read and discuss the referenced articles (and one video presentation), digging deep into the data and noting points where people disagree. Point out that it is very difficult for one to remain neutral on this issue, and that the opinions of the authors and presenters are fairly obvious. Consider picking out a few reader comments under the articles (pre-screening for appropriateness is recommended) and talking about whether their arguments are sound, and whether they have engaged in civil, respectful online behavior.
 

  1. What is the Second Amendment to the Constitution?
    The amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
  2. How do you interpret this amendment?
  3. What kind of America do you think the Founding Fathers imagined when they wrote this? How is the United States different now than it was in 1789, when the Second Amendment was written?
  4. Why is the right to own guns so important to Americans?
  5. Read the President’s plan for reducing gun violence. What are your thoughts on the plan?
  6. In April 2013, the state of Connecticut (where the Newtown school shooting occurred) passed the country's toughest gun control law. The law's provisions included a first-in-the-nation statewide dangerous weapon offender registry, a ban on the sale of large-capacity magazines, universal background checks for gun sales, and a ban on assult weapons. What do you think of the law?
  7. What can and should schools do to keep students safe?
  8. Would armed guards in schools make them safer against gun-related attacks? Here is what the National Rifle Association (NRA) says on the issue, and here is the National Education Association's (NEA's) response. What do you think?
  9. People have very strong opinions and political beliefs regarding guns in America, and even when viewing the same statistics and research, can come to different conclusions. Here are some sources to help demonstrate that complexity and open discussion on the issue:
  • The article 12 Facts About Guns and Mass Shootings in the United States (by Ezra Klein, in his Washington Post blog post) reviews various statistics on different facets of the gun issue. Klein points out that U.S. states with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence. He also notes that U.S. gun ownership is decling, but that America has had more mass shootings than other countries. What is your response to the information and conclusions in this article?
  • Look at the conclusions that David Hemenway, Harvard University professor of health policy, made based on statistics he reviewed. Hemenway notes that a child in the U.S. is 13 times more likely to be killed in a gun-related homicide, compared to a child in a "comparable" country such as Finland, France or New Zealand. He also points out that compared to these other countries, the U.S. has more guns, particularly handguns, and weaker gun control laws. Do you agree with his conclusions?
  • Listen to the conclusions of a panel of researchers who presented (at Johns Hopkins University - Bloomberg School of Public Health) data on gun violence and the effectiveness of gun regulations. The presentation, Guns and Public Health and Safety, is 53 minutes long. (If time is an issue for classroom viewing, the first four minutes of the video can be skipped.) The researchers indicate that compared to other countries with a similar level of wealth, the United States has neither the highest rate of gun ownership nor significantly higher rates of homicide or general violence. The U.S. does, however, have a high rate of gun-related deaths, including suicides, relative to comparable countries. Do you agree with the presenters' conclusions?



Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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