Gun Control: The Effects of Political Culture on Gun Legislation

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Title: Gun Control: The Effects of Political Culture on Gun Legislation
Author: Bennett, Justin
Advisor: Waldman, Sidney
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of Political Science
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2001
Abstract: Gun control issues are too often seen in black and white terms. Whenever I discuss my thesis topic with anyone outside my politics classes their opening question is invariably, are you for or against gun control? Political issues are often broken down into neat "for" and "against" packages by politicians and single interest groups. It is a way of simplifying political matters that are extensive and difficult to grasp for voters who haven't the time or the inclination to review the issues themselves. My answer then, to people who ask me whether I am "for or against," is that gun control policy is not something that I oppose ethically or morally, but rather something that I oppose politically. The American political system and, historically, the context in which gun control policy has been created does not allow for an expedient method of producing effect legislation. The issues that are on politician's agendas are not only dictated by the politicians themselves but only the media, the constituency and concurrently subdivisions of the constituency, lobbies. Politicians may have good intentions, but they must also seek re-election. Consequently, politicians end up serving ineffective and superficial legislation as leverage in campaigns, promoting themselves as "getting tough on crime". This is troubling not only because the public is deceived but because the legislative process does not have to go further, it has served its purpose by lifting politicians to reelection. This scenario is not uncommon in many areas of politics, but the gun control issues seems to show some very blatant examples of the failings of government. Politicians are not completely to blame for the inadequacies of current gun controls. When they delve deeply enough into the economic and social issues of gun control they realize that it is, to say the very least, a daunting task to tackle them. Problems that have plagued politicians for decades play a vital role in the debate over gun violence. Wealth disparity, housing, health insurance, education, and family values are just a few of the factors that must be addressed in order to produce a policy that effectively reduces violence, and more specifically, gun violence. Terms limits for individual politicians prevent them from ever completing programs that would efficiently and effectively eliminate the root causes of gun violence. In today's American political environment microwavable policy is the most popular option in both electoral and presidential politics. Expedience should be an important pillar of government but not at the expense of accuracy and effectiveness. Also, as stated by William Vizzard: The number of gun owners and the size of the existing inventory constitute as large an obstacle for implementation of gun control as enactment--an issue little examined or discussed by advocates. Over a quarter-century ago, political scientists Jeffrey Pressman and Aaron Wildavsky warned the policy formulated without concern for implementation has little chance of success. The political atmosphere is not given to policy designed for easy implementation. Vizzard continues: Unfortunately, crafting policy for implementation offers no political advantage for advocates. Enactment of policy requires skill in manipulating symbols, communicating a simplified and appealing message, developing constituencies, and bargaining. Crafting policy that accomplishes a desired result requires defined objectives, understanding the implementation environment and available incentives, recognition of limitations on implementation, and acceptance of the need for repeat adaptation. Politicians do have these skills but they are looking in the wrong direction. Ultimately, there are three challenges that politicians meet; First, they must get elected or re-elected, second, they must deal with the gun culture and single interest groups, and third, they must develop effective legislation. The first two are related and will be explored further whereas the third challenge is something that will only be met if there is a fundamental shift in the political outlook.
Subject: Firearms -- Law and legislation -- United States
Subject: Gun control -- United States
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Bennett, Justin. "Gun Control: The Effects of Political Culture on Gun Legislation". 2001. Available electronically from

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