10 Big Questions in the U.S. Gun Control Debate

gun control debate
Parents and students are seen desperately waiting for word from students of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida after a deadly shooting on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. Amy Beth Bennett/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images

In December 2012, a 20-year-old man wearing combat gear and armed with pistols and a semi-automatic rifle forced his way into a school in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 26 people, including 20 elementary school students [source: Barron]. That event followed two other mass killings in 2012 — a July attack on an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater in which a gunman killed 12 people and wounded 58 more, and an August assault on a Sikh temple in Milwaukee in which six worshippers were shot to death and three others wounded [source: Krouse].

But this time, the age of the Newtown victims — coupled with heart-rending accounts of Victoria Soto, a 27-year-old teacher slain while shielding her first-grade pupils with her body — roused many Americans to demand action to prevent further gun violence [source: News Times]. Sadly, though nothing has changed. Since the horrific Newtown shooting in 2012, there have been almost 300 more school shootings, as well as several other mass shootings, including the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando that left 49 dead and almost 60 wounded, and the Las Vegas shooting in 2017 that killed 58 people dead and injured 851. Now with the most recent shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, where 31 people were killed in less than 24 hours, that brings the total of mass shootings since Sandy Hook to a whopping 2,178, with at least 2,457 killed and 9,120 wounded.

An October 2018 Gallup Poll found that six in 10 favor stricter gun laws, Americans want the government to pass new gun laws rather than just focusing on current laws. This was up from 51 percent in Gallup's previous poll in 2017.. The public also remains divided about banning assault rifles. In that same 2018 Gallup Poll, 57 percent of Americans said they opposed banning semi-automatic guns, while 40 percent said they favored a ban.

But gun rights lobbyists say such laws would violate Americans' constitutional right to bear arms. They also argue that citizens need weaponry to defend against criminals — and the possibility of future government tyranny.

As Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, warned at a January 2013 press conference: "When you hear your glass breaking at 3 a.m. and you call 911, you won't be able to pray hard enough for a gun in the hands of a good guy to get there fast enough to protect you" [source: Washington Post]. Some, such as economist and author John R. Lott Jr., argued that the answer to stopping gun violence was for more citizens to be armed [source: University of Chicago Press].

So which side is right? That's for you to decide. But to help you make an informed decision, here are answers to 10 big questions in the U.S. gun control debate.