Gun Control And The Controversy Over The 2nd Amendment

In America today, gun control takes many forms.

The issue of gun control is a hot topic that is fiercely debated by two primary opposing ideologies about civilian gun ownership. The first ideological group is comprised of people who advocate for gun control and support increasing regulations related to gun ownership. The second ideological group is composed of people who advocate for gun rights and support decreasing regulations related to gun ownership or maintaining current policies. These two opposing groups are often politicized and their general point of contention stems from party interpretation of laws and regulations related to firearms and public safety.

The Constitutional Convention took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Out of this historic meeting came the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Second Amendment calls for ‘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,” which essentially protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms. This simple clause continues to spur debate on the issue of gun control, even 230 years later.

The first piece of national gun control legislation was passed on June 26, 1934. The National Firearms Act, popularly known as the (NFA), was part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” This was an initiative to fight organized crime during this era. The NFA imposed a tax on the manufacturing, selling, and transporting of firearms, but was modified due to constitutional flaws and conflicts. This act was further supported by the Federal Firearms Act (FFA) of 1938, which required gun manufacturers, importers, and dealers to obtain a federal firearms license. This legislation also made a historic step in gun control by stipulating that previously convicted felons could not purchase guns, and mandated that gun sellers keep customer records. The FFA was repealed in 1968 by the Gun Control Act (GCA), though many of its provisions were reenacted by the GCA. The next big push for gun control came in the form of “The Gun Control Act of 1968,” which is commonly known as the (GCA), which was passed after the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and African-American activist Malcolm X, along with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s. This act stipulated that interstate firearms transfers must be outlawed, except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers. While this may seem to be a small, insignificant regulation, it was one of the first firearm regulations to take national precedent. This act banned importing guns that have “no sporting purpose,” imposed age restrictions for the purchase of handguns (gun owners had to be 21), prohibited felons, the mentally ill, and others from purchasing guns, required that all manufactured or imported guns have a serial number, and according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), imposed “stricter licensing and regulation on the firearms industry.” This was the first time guns with “no sporting purpose” had been addressed and defined within legislation. Another piece of legislation was crafted to strengthen “The Gun Control Act of 1968,” which was named the “Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993.” This act was created in response to a tragedy involving White House press secretary, James Brady, who was permanently disabled from an injury suffered during an attempted assassination on President Ronald Reagan. The law, which amends the GCA, specifically requires that background checks be completed before a gun is purchased from a licensed dealer, manufacturer, or importer. It also established the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is maintained by the FBI and has become a cornerstone for modern law enforcement. An extremely interesting section of the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act,” enacted by President Clinton in 1994, is a controversial subsection titled Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, more commonly known as the infamous “assault weapons ban.” This small section of legislation has become an extreme national policy debate, so much so that it was repealed shortly after being passed. Multiple attempts to renew the ban have failed. Sweeping gun control reform also came after the killing of 26 people, mostly children, in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012. After this massacre, some states enforced better background checks, but little legislation has been passed since.

Modern Gun Control

A new era of gun control was initiated by the landmark Supreme Court case, “District of Columbia v. Heller,” which essentially changed a 70-year precedent set by Miller in 1939. The Miller ruling focused on the “well-regulated militia” portion of the Second Amendment, known as the “collective rights theory,” referring to personal protection rights. Compared to the Miller case, Heller specifically focused on the “individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia.” This focus challenged the constitutional paradigm of a 32-year-old handgun ban in Washington, D.C., and found, “The handgun ban and the trigger-lock requirement (as applied to self-defense) violate the Second Amendment.” While Heller did not nullify previous gun control provisions, it did call into question how valid a need for a “well-regulated militia” was. The House of Representatives answered this metaphorical question with the “Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019,” which would ban person-to-person firearms transfers without a background check, including firearms transfers at gun shows. As of September 1, 2019, the Senate has taken no action on the bill and little legislative progress has been enacted.

Methods and Acts of Gun Control

Gun control is defined as the regulation of the sale and use of firearms. There are many specific targets for gun reform legislation in modern society which include: reducing magazine sizes, limiting the amount of guns each citizen can own, increasing the age to possess any gun, and conducting more in depth background checks when purchasing weapons. Large capacity magazines (LCMs) have been used to cause devastation on an enormous scale in the ten deadliest mass shootings in the last decade. Legislation pertaining to limiting the amount of guns each citizen can own would likely reduce the probability of crime, but this type of agenda is often disliked and deemed unconstitutional. The aspect of gun control relating to age restrictions is complex, in the fact that the earliest age anyone can legally buy a firearm is twenty one, but a firearm can be given, or transfered, to someone at the age of 18. Lastly, more thorough background checks as a type of gun control could drastically decrease the amount of gun violence in America. There are many proposed pieces of legislation in progress that attempt to prevent the devastating loss of life resulting from firearm related incidents. These acts/laws include the Bipartisan Background Checks Act and the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. The Bipartisan Background Checks Act is an act that would require a background check on almost every gun sale or transfer. The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act is an attempt to limit the areas where people carry concealed firearms. With these acts, background checks would become mandatory and restrictions would be made in order to lower gun ownership by criminals.

Pro Gun Control Arguments

Many proponents of gun control and gun reform hold the opinion that the Second Amendment is not an unlimited right to own guns, rather a symbolic right that allows citizens to own guns in times of need. Currently, the United States has 120.5 guns per 100 people, or about 393,347,000 guns in total, which is the highest total and per capita number in the world. Coupled with the fact that only 3% of people own 50% of the civilian weapons in the United States, these statistics are overwhelming and excessive, considering we live in a stable democracy with no foreseeable need for excessive amounts of firearms. With 22% of Americans owning one or more registered guns, it becomes a national question of “how many guns are too many guns?” On June 26, 2008 the US Supreme Court offered an interesting majority opinion delivered by Justice Antonin Scalia. It outlined that ‘Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited… nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.’ While this is a very centrist opinion, it does support the notion that the Second Amendment should be limited and should not be treated as a permit to purchase excessive amounts of firearms. Another point of contention for proponents of gun control argue that more gun control laws would reduce gun-related deaths. In total gun-related deaths between the years of 1999 and 2016 totaled 572,537, and while all of these deaths could not have been prevented with legislation, many argue that it would be a step in the right direction. It has also been proven that, “Guns were the leading cause of death by homicide (67.7% of all homicides),” which leads many to speculate that the very presence of guns in a society or home makes it immediately more dangerous, especially when there is an exaggerated number of them. Many advocates for gun control also hold the sentiment that guns are rarely used in self-defense. Of the 29,618,300 violent crimes committed between 2007 and 2011, less than 1% of victims protected themselves with a “threat of use or use of a firearm,” which was the least-employed defensive behavior. Also, an analysis of property crimes displays that “of the 84,495,500 property crimes committed between 2007 and 2011, 0.12% of victims (103,000) protected themselves with a threat of use or use of a firearm.” These statistics show that guns are less likely to be employed for protection purposes. Along the same lines, the majority of adult gun owners support common sense gun control. Common sense gun control is a non-specific term that describes precautions like background checks, bans on assault weapons, and bans on high-capacity magazines. A Quinnipiac Poll conducted on Feb. 20, 2018, quantified this information on “common sense gun control,” by stating “97% of American voters and 97% of gun owners support universal background checks. 67% support a nationwide ban on assault weapons, and 83% support mandatory waiting periods for gun purchases.” With as many as 40% of gun sales being undocumented, private party gun sales that do not require a background check, it concerns many Americans that laws like the ‘gun show loophole’ allow for the undocumented transfer of firearms. One more effect of “common sense” gun control is the realization that it is unlikely that armed civilians would stop crime, instead they would most likely make the situation more deadly. Out of the 62 mass shootings between 1982 and 2012, none of them were stopped by an armed civilian. There are many gun rights activists who regularly state that the 2002 mass shooting at the Appalachian School of Law in Virginia was actually stopped by armed students, however the shooter had run out of bullets and the students were former and current law enforcement officers. Various mass shootings have prompted experts like Jeffrey Voccola of Kutztown University, to speculate on the reliability of gun owners to stop violent incidents. He notes that ‘The average gun owner, no matter how responsible, is not trained in law enforcement or on how to handle life-threatening situations, so in most cases, if a threat occurs, increasing the number of guns only creates a more volatile and dangerous situation.’It is also worth it to note that gun control laws can save a lot of money from a societal standpoint. According to The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation , gun violence costs an average of $560 a year, per person. As a consequence of these violent acts, the U.S. government lost over $5 billion in tax revenues. Many of these expenses are due to the majority of people who are treated for gunshot wounds not having insurance, therefore taxpayers are responsible for the cost of their treatment. It certainly does not help that an increase in gun-related crime severely lowers property values of a neighborhood. Better and more inclusive gun laws can and will save thousands of lives every year. Gun control doesn’t have to be a partisan issue, if it is done correctly.

Con Gun Control Arguments

The Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own guns, and is the basis for another crucial argument that is, legislating gun laws will not deter crime, being a responsible gun owner will reduce crime. Guns prevent an astounding 2.5 million crimes a year, or 6,849 every day. Most often, “the gun is never fired, and no blood (including the criminal’s) is shed.”(FEE) Every year, 400,000 life-threatening violent crimes are also prevented using firearms. This shows that the presence of firearms can deter crime. Additionally ,the Foundation for Economic Education shows us that “60 percent of convicted felons admitted that they avoided committing crimes when they knew the victim was armed. Forty percent of convicted felons admitted that they avoided committing crimes when they thought the victim might be armed.” John Stossel, a journalist, furthers this argument by explaining, ‘Criminals don’t obey the law… Without the fear of retaliation from victims who might be packing heat, criminals in possession of these [illegal] weapons now have a much easier job… As the saying goes, ‘If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.’” Another key factor in the gun control debate, is the issue that gun laws will not stop criminals from obtaining firearms. Larry Swickard, a firearms journalist, associates this assumption with the statement, “Gun control measures have massively failed, because criminals don’t obey the law in the first place and typically obtain guns through burglary or theft. This also renders efforts to mark and trace guns to criminals a failure.” John R. Lott, gun rights activist, stated, “The problem with gun control laws is that they take away guns from law-abiding citizens, while would-be criminals ignore them.’ A May 2013 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, added to the argument with the statistic that 37.4% of state prison inmates who ‘used, carried, or possessed a firearm when they committed the crime for which they were serving a prison sentence’ obtained the gun from a family member or friend. An example of this is Chicago’s ban on gun shops, shooting ranges, assault weapons, and high capacity magazines. The Bureau of Justice Statistics also shows us that, “in 2014 Chicago had 2,089 shooting victims, including at least 390 murders.”(CATO) Approximately 50,000 guns were recovered by police in Chicago between 2001 and March 2012. The guns came from all 50 states, and more than half came from outside of Illinois, which only furthers the notion that gun control measures will not stop criminals from obtaining firearms. Many gun control laws, like background checks, are said to be an invasion of privacy.Background checks require government databases that keep personal information on gun owners. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) pushed back in 2013 when Senator Harry Reid proposed the background check legislation that would have allowed the government to keep databases filled with gun purchases indefinitely.

Whether it can be agreed upon that the interpretation of the Second Amendment in the United States Constitution, that private ownership of firearms is permitted or not, everyone can agree with the matter that there is an enormous amount of gun violence in the United States. Even in our group, we have one person for gun control, one against, and one person who is unbiased. Regardless of the fact that the overall rate of crime in many communities is on a twenty year downward trend, fatalities due to gun violence is still too high within our borders. In 2016 alone over 38,000 people died because of a gunshot wound. Sadly, over half of these fatalities were self-inflicted. These numbers do not include all of the incidents where the victim of gun violence survived, adding another 80,000 or so people to the list of those affected by gun violence in America. Also in 2016, the United States averaged about one “mass shooting” a day. These mass shootings typically bring Americans together in their hopes for some type of common sense gun control, but extremists on both sides of the debate continue to argue with no resolution in sight. Will the controversy over the 2nd Amendment last for another 230 years? Hopefully wisdom and logic will prevail for a universal resolution to this topic.

References

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