10 Big Questions in the U.S. 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 thre 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.

A November 2017 Gallup Poll (between the shooting in Las Vegas and the Nov. 5, 2017 mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas) found that 51 percent of Americans want the government to pass new gun laws rather than just focusing on current laws. This was up from 47 percent in Gallup's previous poll in 2012, and the first time that a majority of Americans favored new gun laws since Gallup first asked this question in 2000 [source: Saad]. The public also remains evenly divided about banning assault rifles. When asked if they would be "opposed to a law that would make it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess semi-automatic guns" 48 percent said they were in favor of that law and 49 percent were opposed [source: Brenan].

But as usual, 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.