What Role Should The Government Play in Gun Control?
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.
Gun control is a real issue with Americans today. Many people have different opinions about how to handle our growing dilemma concerning guns. There are those who believe we should ban guns altogether and those who believe we should not ban or restrict the people’s right to own guns at all. Both sides have valid arguments, but neither side seems to know how to compromise because of their very different opinions. I personally believe guns should be banned. However, those against gun control have very good arguments.
The Second Amendment was written because of the colonists’ fear of an all-powerful central government taking over, but there are many interpretations of how the Second Amendment reads. The court has never found the Second Amendment to clash with the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process clause which states that, “No state shall…deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” (McClenaghan 522). This gave each state the right to set up their own rules and regulations, which I believe, is one reason why we have the problems that we do.
There have been four major cases heard by the Supreme Court which found that the fire-arm control laws are constitutional; United States v. Cruikshank (1986), Presser v. Illinois (1886), Miller v. Texas (1894), and the United States v. Miller (1939) (Strahinich 41). United States v. Miller was the most important. It supported a section of the National Firearms Act of 1934, basically stating that it is a crime to ship sawed off shotguns, machine guns, or silencers across state lines unless registered with the Treasury Department (McClenaghan 522).
The United States already has more than twenty thousand gun laws, but they do not seem to be making an impact. The first American gun control laws were written before the Revolutionary War. The most effective and more recent laws have been the Gun Control Act of 1986 and the Brady Law. The Gun Control Act of 1986 has a lot of impact on our rights concerning firearms today. It requires federal licensing and inspection of dealers with new and stricter guidelines. It restricted the sale of ammunition and firearms between states and completely banned importing “Saturday night specials.” Citizens could no longer own “destructive devices” such as bazookas and machine guns (Strahinich 51). This mainly attempts to prohibit high risk groups from obtaining firearms. The Gun Control Act of 1986 created new and greater penalties for using firearms to commit federal crimes. The Brady Law of 1994 required a buyer to wait at least five days before receiving a handgun, therefore giving the seller adequate time to do a background check. The opposition argues that since there are over two million handguns in circulation today it would be nearly impossible for every single buyer to be checked. Those gun control believe that neither the Brady Act nor the Gun Control Act of 1986 are strong enough. It’s revision in 1998 expanded required waiting periods on handguns, to requiring waiting periods on all firearms (Netzley 32). Some have suggested limiting guns and ammunition. Virginia Governor Doug Wilder proposed limiting gun purchases to one per person per month (Roleff 65). However, in 1982 Kennesaw, Georgia created an ordinance that required every head of household to own a gun and ammunition (Strahinich 48). Washington DC has the country’s most extreme gun law. It states that “No civilian may buy or carry a handgun, nor may any gun be kept assembled or loaded in one’s home for self defense.” Yet, Washington has one of the highest homicide rates in the United States (Roleff 47). It is my belief that no single state can accurately decide what is best for the nation as a whole. It is said that any gun control measure that makes it harder to obtain guns would tend to produce more gun violence rather than less because the law abiding citizens will be defenseless against the criminal types. To gun control activists, repressive gun control laws are not at all effective. If anything, it will nurture the spread of firearms. Just look at how the repressive gun laws of Chicago, New York, and Washington DC sent responsible gun use underground.
There are many groups strongly against gun control. Some include: the Second Amendment Foundation, the Citizen’s Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, the Gun Owners of America, and the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA, being the largest group, has over three million members and an annual budget of one hundred million dollars. Their suggestion is that we keep the laws we have and just enforce them with tougher sentences for anyone who uses a firearm to break a law. The NRA’s slogan is “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have them.” They often argue that “Guns do not kill people, people kill people.” The NRA does not want any gun control laws or restrictions. The only laws they promote are preemption laws, which keep cities and localities from establishing and enforcing their own restrictive gun control laws and regulations without consent from the state.
It has been recognized that when countries in the past established gun control, they used it against the people. For example, in 1929, the Soviet Union created a basis of gun control and from 1929-1953 approximately twenty million unarmed dissidents were killed. China established gun control laws in 1935 and close to twenty million more dissidents were executed from 1948-1952. Turkey, Germany, Guatemala, and Uganda all instituted some form of gun control and within a short period of time many lost their lives, all because they were unarmed and defenseless. From 1915-1981 over fifty six million people died because those countries in particular used gun control laws against their public (http://www.alphadogweb.com /firearms/gun_ control_is_a_nice_phrase.htm).
Gun opponents believe that the Second Amendment did not create an existing right. All it did was state a pre-existing right. They read it as though the Second Amendment specifically grants the right to the people, and if the framers intended to give states the power to maintain militias, it would have clearly said so. They also say that civilian gun ownership is “necessary to the security of a free state.” Another argument of theirs is that the amendment does not say states may keep and bear arms. Rather, it states the people have the right to do so. In 1990 in the United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, the United States Supreme Court declared that the word “people” used in the Bill of Rights is defined as a “class of person’s who are part of the national community”(Roleff 76). It is also a belief that guns make people feel safer knowing that they have means of defense. New York criminologist Hans Toch wrote, ” When used for protection, firearms can seriously inhibit aggression and can provide a psychological buffer against fear of crime” (Roleff 45). It has been proven that most violent acts are committed by people with histories of violence. Today ninety nine percent of all legal owners do no commit crimes with their guns. Only fifty four percent (about fourteen million) guns have been registered with the FBI (Dolan 29). However, thirty three and a half percent (close to 8.7 million) are incomplete registration records (Dolan 55).
Gun advocates believe that, much like a driver’s license, gun ownership is a privilege. They believe that gun ownership is not an absolute right and it can be restricted for the public’s safety and well-being. Their interpretation of the Second Amendment is that it only grants the state itself the right to maintain militias. The court refers to the militia as “a body of citizens enrolled for military discipline”, not as an armed citizenry at large (Roleff 85). Their main targets are handguns and assault
weapons, both being weapons of choice for criminals. Thus, guns, like other potentially dangerous products, should be controlled by government agencies.
One issue frequently debated is gun violence that affects children. Each day in the United States fourteen children are killed in accidents, suicides, and homicides, and hundreds more are injured. Those against gun control claim that gun accidents
involving both children and adults have fallen since the 1970’s (Roleff 66-67). One solution either way would be to teach our children about proper and responsible gun safety.
Every year more than thirty four thousand Americans are killed with handguns in homicides, suicides, and accidents. Only three hundred are listed as “justifiable homicide” (Roleff 22-23). This category includes shooting a burglar, rapist, or mugger. Police kill close to 330 innocent people annually. Citizens kill only thirty people a year because they are mistaken for an intruder (Lott, 1-2). It has been proven that a gun in the home is forty three times more likely to kill its owner, a family member, or friend rather than an intruder (Roleff 23). In 1992, more people in Texas were killed by guns than car accidents (Roleff 25). Those who do not favor gun control argue that those figures do not include citizens whose lives were saved because an intruder was scared off by a gun. They claim that close to 82,000 people use firearms in defense for themself, someone else, or their property (Roleff 117).
There are two basic approaches to controlling this problem. Either let everyone have access to guns, except those prohibited by law, or do not let anyone have a gun except those permitted, such as those in the line if duty or law enforcement officials. I personally believe that all handguns and assault weapons should be banned and destroyed with the exception of law enforcement officials and military. We might not be able to stop all of this gun violence but at least we can close loopholes that control the sale and distribution of guns in America. Next to automobiles, guns are the second most deadly consumer product on the market. There are over two hundred million guns in circulation today, compared to the mere fifty four million in 1950 (Roleff 142).
Dolan, Edward, Margaret Scariano. Guns in the United States. New York, New York: Moffa Press, Incorporated, 1994. pp.. 29-30, 55.
Lott, J.R. More Guns Less Crime. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1998. pp.. 1-2.
McClenaghan, William. American Government. Needham, Massachusetts: Prentice Hall, 1993. pp.. 489, 522.
Netzley, P.D. Issues in Crime. Sandiego, California: Lucent Books Inc., 2000. pp.. 32
Roleff, T.L. ed. Gun Control, Opposing Viewpoints. Sandiego, California: Greenhaven Press Inc., 1997. pp.. 22-23, 25, 45, 47, 65-67, 76, 85, 117, 142.
Strahinich, Helen. Guns in America. United States: Walker Publishing Company, 1992. pp.. 41, 48, 51.