Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Gun politics in the United States
Gun politics in the United States
The private ownership of guns is an especially contentious political topic in the United States, where the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution states:
- 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.
The meaning of this text remains fiercely debated, with some saying that the amendment only refers to official bodies under government control (such as the National Guard) and others saying that the amendment always guaranteed the right of independent individuals to possess and carry firearms. The first side argues that only "well regulated militia" have the right to keep and bear Arms. Others say the phrase "the people" uncontroversially applies to individuals rather than an organized collective. They point out that in the following statement books could not be restricted to University graduates only:
- "A well graduated Academia being necessary to the prosperity of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Books shall not be infringed."
There are also questions about the legitimacy of the commas in the 2nd Amendment. All the copies of the Constitution distributed by the states from 1792 to 1799, contain only one comma after the word State.
- Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of Religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
Reflects two separate parts, one of which could be considered an example of the previous statement.
It is important to note that the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution are commonly (and legally) referred to as "The Bill of Rights." The founders felt so strongly about the enumeration of these natural rights that the Constitution would not have passed ratification without the construction of the Bill of Rights. Additionally, the phrase the "people" used elsewhere in the Bill of Rights refers to individuals as well as the whole of the people. This fact has been legally demonstrated and accepted for over two hundred years. However, gun control advocates argue that in the Second Amendment, "people" suddenly means "the militia" and that "people" reverts to its more common meaning elsewhere. Another tactic is to say that the Second Amendment refers to states rights. However, the remaining amendments in the Bill of Rights refer to "individual rights." This is illogical in several senses, none the least of which is that the Constitution invokes limits on powers of government, and enumerates individual rights. In no sense does the Constitution convey rights to states.
Earlier drafts of the United States Bill of Rights had much lengthier text that was trimmed as part of an overall effort by the Founding Fathers to shorten a document that was then perceived to be too wordy. Some constitutional scholars ascribe significance to these drafts, which tend to support a broader application of the Second Amendment. The constitutions of over 40 states provide more clearly written protection for the individual right to firearms ownership. Additionally, the reader must consider the well documented fact that opponents to the Bill of Rights during the Constitutional Convention were not against the existence of the rights it enshrined, but because they believed that it was so self evident that the rights existed, originating as all government power did, in the individual as a tautological basis of Lockean Natural Law, that they could not imagine a future society in which such an obvious truth could come into dispute, yet not fall into the most abject tyranny and degeneracy.
Gun rights advocates point to the writings of the Founders to indicate that the intent of the Second Amendment was to assure that the ordinary individual citizens of America would have the freedom of choice to own whatever sorts of weapons they wished. Here is a sample of those statements....:
- "To suppose arms in the hands of citizens, to be used at individual discretion, except in private self-defense, or by partial orders of towns, countries or districts of a state, is to demolish every constitution, and lay the laws prostrate, so that liberty can be enjoyed by no man; it is a dissolution of the government. The fundamental law of the militia is, that it be created, directed and commanded by the laws, and ever for the support of the laws." --John Adams, A Defence of the Constitutions of the United States 475 (1787-1788)
- "No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms." -- Thomas Jefferson, Proposed Virginia Constitution, June, 1776
- "Laws that forbid the carrying of arms. . . disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. . . Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man." --Thomas Jefferson, Commonplace Book, 1774-1776, quoting from On Crimes and Punishment, by criminologist Cesare Beccaria, 1764
- "[W]hen the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man, who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually.". . . I ask, who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers." --George Mason, Virginia's U.S. Constitution ratification convention, 1788
- "That the People have a right to keep and bear Arms; that a well regulated Militia, composed of the Body of the People, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe Defence of a free state." -- Within Mason's declaration of "the essential and unalienable Rights of the People," --George Mason, later adopted by the Virginia ratification convention, 1788
- "The said Constitution [shall] be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press, or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms." --Samuel Adams, Massachusetts' U.S. Constitution ratification convention, 1788
- "[A] string of amendments were presented to the lower House; these altogether respected personal liberty." --William Grayson, Letter to Patrick Henry, June 12, 1789, referring to the introduction of what became the Bill of Rights
- "A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves . . . and include all men capable of bearing arms. . . To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms... The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle." --Richard Henry Lee, Additional Letters From The Federal Farmer, 1788
- "The Constitution preserves "the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation. . . (where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms." --James Madison, The Federalist, No. 46
- "The militia, who are in fact the effective part of the people at large, will render many troops quite unnecessary. They will form a powerful check upon the regular troops, and will generally be sufficient to over-awe them." --Tench Coxe, An American Citizen, Oct. 21, 1787
- "Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American . . . . The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people." --Tench Coxe, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788
- "As the military forces which must occasionally be raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the next article (of amendment) in their right to keep and bear their private arms." --Tench Coxe, Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789
- "Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power." --Noah Webster, An Examination of The Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, Philadelphia, 1787
- "[I]f circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their rights and those of their fellow citizens." --Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist, No. 29
- "[A]rms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. . . Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them." --Thomas Paine, Thoughts On Defensive War, 1775
- "The rights of conscience, of bearing arms, of changing the government, are declared to be inherent in the people." --Fisher Ames, Letter to F.R. Minoe, June 12, 1789
- "What, sir, is the use of militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty. . . Whenever Government means to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise a standing army upon its ruins." --Elbridge Gerry, Debate, U.S. House of Representatives, August 17, 1789
- "Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel." --Patrick Henry, Virginia's U.S. Constitution ratification convention
It should be pointed out that some scholars interpret the Constitution to have been engineered as a "living document," one that is alterable as circumstances and situations dictate, under the provisions of Article V. For example, when the citizenry no longer decided to have the 18th Amendment legally apply (prohibition on alcohol), the Consitution was changed to reflect that. They did not simply decide to re-interpet the ban on alcohol to no longer apply. This type of re-interpretaion of a Constitution would defeat the whole point of having one. Instead, a carefully considered legal and political process was undertaken to ensure that all legal citizens had the opportunity to voice opinions for and against amending the Constitution. Some therefore argue that if society evolves to no longer desire the protection intended by the Second Amendment or other parts of the Bill of Rights, the Constitution could then be legally altered, not just "re-interpreted" as has been done by certain courts since 1905 (see firearm case law).
Some might point out that when this amendment was written, the most deadly firearm that was in existence in 1787 was the 5'5" English Short Land Pattern "Brown Bess" flintlock musket, capable of firing three times a minute, with an accuracy of less than 50 yards, under optimal(dry, unhurried)conditions. Most rifles at that time, while capable of longer range, were much slower to load. Breechloading weapons, like the Brunswick rifle, were essentially non-existant in the United States at that time, and were in extremely rare quantities worldwide. The framers cited above, then, were familiar with clumsy, inaccurate, and temperamental single-shot weapons as being the firearms protected by this amendment. However, similar arguments can be made for all other personal freedoms, such as freedom of the press which would be limited to newspapers and the news which could only be spread at the speed of a horseback rider. If the above logic is accepted, then live coverage, radio, television, and certainly internet media would not be covered by the constitution.
The weapons at the time of the framing of the consitution would have seemed quite deadly and advanced when compared to the matchlock or wheellock muskets of the 15th and 16th centuries. Similarly, weapons of today will surely seem clumsy, inaccurate, and temperamental when compared to the standards of the 22nd century. Weapons of the past will always seem obsolete, while weapons of the present will always seem extremely destructive.
The US Supreme Court has never directly ruled on the actual meaning of the Second Amendment despite having had a variety of opportunities to do so. Gun rights advocates point out that the court has made statements that refer to this right as an individual right. These statements are found in cases unrelated to the Second Amendment. Gun control advocates point out that the US Supreme Court has never taken a Second Amendment case and used it to strike down any gun control law. For some of the opinions from the US Supreme Court which mention the right to keep and bear arms as an individual right of citizens, see cases: Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), U.S. v. Cruikshank , Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992), Johnson v. Eisentrager, Poe v. Ullman , Konigsberg v. State Bar , Duncan v. Louisiana, Laird v. Tatum , Spencer v. Kemna (1998), Albright v. Oliver , United States v. Lopez and U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez. For a comprehensive related list, see firearm court cases.
Executive branch positions
The de facto position of the Executive Branch from 1934 until 2002 was that the Second Amendment protects a collective right, based on an interpretation of US v. Miller . In 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Solicitor General Theodore Olson announced their interpretation that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms, including a different interpretation of US v Miller to support their arguments.
Certain local jurisdictions, such as New York, had begun trying to restrict firearms ownership from minorities with registration schemes as early as 1911 and the former slave states had tried to prohibit black Americans from owning any sort of firearms starting shortly after the 13th Amendment was enacted officially freeing all slaves in 1865. In fact, the Congress cited disarmament of blacks as the primary reason why the 14th Amendment was needed, to ensure that freed slaves obtained all of their civil rights under federal law and federal supremacy.
Types of armaments have changed argument
Some gun control advocates claim that only those types of weapons available to the public at the time the Second Amendment was ratified are protected by the Second Amendment; thus, they claim, Americans should be allowed only flint-lock muskets. Critics of that stance, however, contend that by that logic, freedom of speech should be restricted to the manual printing press, and word-of-mouth.
While the technology of firearm known to the Founding Fathers was primitive by comparison to today's weapons, individuals at that time were free to own a greater amount of destructive force than today. At the time of the nation's founding, individuals were free to own any weapon known, including cannons, field pieces and even fully-armed warships of the day. In fact, up until the National Firearms Act of 1934, there was no Federal law against ordinary Americans' owning any weapons available anywhere, including anything the US military used, such as tanks, artillery, bombs and even high-explosives. No licenses and no registration were required.
Right to WMDs?
Most people on both sides agree that so-called "Weapons of Mass Destruction" (i.e., biological, chemical and nuclear weapons) cannot have any legitimate purpose in the hands of individuals and that even in non-hostile hands these weapons pose a serious threat due to the risk of even simple accidents during storage or transport. As such, most agree that even the broad protections of the Second Amendment for the right to keep and bear arms do not apply to "WMD's".
However, a few on the gun-rights side (notably Vin Suprynowicz ) point out that all American government powers originate with the people. Therefore, they argue, if the American government has the power to own WMDs, the people must have the same power or else they wouldn't have been able to give it to the government. Opponents of this view contend it commits the logical fallacy of division, giving as a counterexample powers of the State to tax, to imprison, and even to execute, which no government empowers to individuals.
Some contend this counterexample is nullified by the fact that armed private citizens can use deadly force "in defense of themselves, their families, their property, and the state" (NH State Const. Part I, Article IIa) and it is from this self defense/state defense function that the state itself derives its power to execute convicted criminals and engage in warfare. Gun-rights proponents say it is not a fallacy of division, but a matter of partial delegation, just as citizens delegate some powers to their State government, and the same and/or others to the Federal government (like the authority to oversee elections, to tax, to regulate commerce, ban some drugs but not others, etc)
Those who maintain that Suprynowicz's argument still commits the fallacy of division, argue that the delegation of powers (in the case of nuclear weapons) is not partial but complete, just as, though individuals are permitted to detain or even kill others when the need for defense is imminent, no state allows that any single individual retains any "right" to execute nor to imprison others -- that only the state may execute or imprison (or delegate the carrying out of such to its lawful agents). The argument continues that similarly, it is not the case that all individuals have a right to keep nuclear weapons.
However most states in the US do in fact empower the average citizen to effect citizens arrest for felonies and in some cases obligate them to do so. Citizens can also use deadly force to defend others, or their property, and/or the state (as cited above), not just in cases of imminent danger to themselves alone. Furthermore, in few courts in the nation is a judge allowed to impose the death penalty, only a jury of one's peers can do so in most cases, ergo the power to execute remains in the hands of the average citizen doing their jury duty. ,
Finally, given how 9-11 has proven how easily a non-military device like an airliner is turned into a weapon of mass destruction (and private individuals across the nation today do own airliners, as do many private corporations), it is clear that there are now conventional 'unconventional' weapons and unconventional unconventional weapons, all of which are WMDs. This demonstrates that it is impossible to outlaw technology, so we are left to the same rationale as normal weapons: when you outlaw WMDs, only outlaws will have WMDs. When those outlaws are running the government, then the people have no means to dispose of them and the primary purpose of the 2nd Amendment has been defeated.
There are many positions held on this debate, including the belief that gun ownership is currently overregulated, the desire to further regulate guns without banning them, and the wish to ban ownership outright. Gun rights and gun control advocates disagree upon many issues. Key disagreements include:
- Did the Founding Fathers intend for the Second Amendment to apply to individuals or only to government bodies such as States?
- What does the word "militia" refer to—state forces such as the National Guard, or the entire able-bodied citizenry?
- Should the Second Amendment enjoy Fourteenth Amendment incorporation?
- Does the 2nd Amendment's reference to States mean that only the states can restrict weapons?
- Does existing gun control legislation infringe upon the Second Amendment?
- How many crimes are prevented and lives are saved due to the availability of firearms?
- How many crimes are caused and lives are lost due to the availability of firearms?
- Should the government have the right to restrict or regulate gun ownership?
People on both sides claim that the gun rights lobby is among the most effective and organized single-issue political groups in the United States. However, in-spite of that common perception and the best efforts of the gun rights lobby, the gun control/gun ban lobby has still managed to enact many gun control laws.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is the largest and best-known gun rights and gun sports advocacy group. Originally formed in 1871, after the American Civil War, to promote marksmanship skills among the general population, the NRA was mainly a shooting-sports association made up of small, local clubs. It became a powerful lobbying force after the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, which made gun control a national issue. Virtually all pro-gun-control groups see the NRA's positions as extremist, especially since Harlon Carter became the de facto policy maker at the NRA, bringing with him a more hard-line stance towards gun rights than the NRA held in the past.
In contrast, the other national gun rights groups generally take a much harder line than the NRA. These groups criticize the NRA's history of support for various gun control legislation such as: the Gun Control Act of 1968, the ban on armor-piercing projectiles and the point-of-purchase background checks (NICS), to name a few. The Second Amendment Sisters, Second Amendment Foundation , Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, The Pink Pistols and Gun Owners of America are among the groups in this category.
While gun control is not strictly a partisan issue, there is more support for gun control in the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. The only political party which is totally pro-gun is the United States Libertarian Party Traditionally, regional differences are greater than partisan ones on this issue. Southern and Western states are predominantly pro-gun while coastal states like California, Massachusetts, and New York favor gun control. Other areas, including the Midwest, are mixed, and a few, like Vermont and Alaska have absolutely no CCW (Carrying a Concealed Weapon) licensing requirements, gun registrations, or bans, and disallow local government pre-emption.
Some questions of regulatory policy include:
- Types of firearm –Should some types of firearms be regulated differently than others?
- Criteria of eligibility – Are there criteria that disqualify a person from owning firearms? (Possible criteria include age, mental competence, firearm training, and felony conviction)
- Background checks – Should there be background checks made to verify eligibility to own a firearm? Who should make them, and should there be a waiting period before a firearm can be sold?
- Registration – Should all firearms and firearm owners be registered? If so, how may the registration information be used, and who should have access to it?
- Concealed weapons – Should carry of a concealed weapon be regulated? If so, should concealed carry be regulated separately from ownership, and if so, how?
- Enforcement –Once firearms policy is decided, will it be official policy to enforce these laws and how can they be enforced? (refer to Janet Reno's published statements regarding the near zero enforcement of firearms laws against known criminals as not being a priority)
- Appearance –Can certain guns be banned solely on aesthetic features, like folding stocks, bayonet lugs, pistol grips, which have no impact upon firearm capacity, firing rate, caliber, accuracy, etc. i.e. simply because certain people find them 'ugly' or 'militaresque' or 'scary', such as found in the now obsolescent Assault Weapons Ban?
Prominent organizations and individuals
The field of political research regarding firearms suffers from the same contention as the issue of firearms itself. Almost every prominent researcher has seen their works attacked by those uncomfortable with their conclusions, and some have had their work investigated as academic fraud. Nonetheless, some influential individuals include:
Some prominent advocacy organizations in this field:
- National Rifle Association
- Second Amendment Sisters
- Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership
- Gun Owners of America
- Pink Pistols - A gay gun rights advocacy group
- Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
- The Brady Campaign (formerly Handgun Control, Inc.)
- Join Together - Gun Violence Section
- The High Road - Premier Firearms Website on the Internet
- Guns Save Lives firearms,instructors,gun,Colorado,concealed carry,training,certified,classes,handgun
- gunlaws.com - Bloomfield Press
-- to merge --
In some cases, no term for an element of a highly contentious issue exists that is considered fully neutral by both sides. In these cases, the most neutral term is used.
The term "gun control" refers to attempts by society (generally by government or "the State") to limit the possession, production, importation, shipment, sale, and/or use of "guns" -- in this context, generally personal firearms : handguns and long guns. Weapons normally produced and intended for military and paramilitary (e.g. SWAT team) use, such as fully automatic weapons, are especially contentious.
Gun control laws
Fully automatic weapons have been restricted in the United States since the National Firearms Act of 1934. Private owners must obtain permission from the US Treasury Dept., pass an extensive background check, fully register the firearm and continually update the owner's address and location of the firearm and pay a $200 transfer tax. Some states require state permission as well. Otherwise, they are available only to police or military personnel.
The Clinton administration BATF study of illegal firearms in the black market estimated that as many as 4 million illegal fully automatic firearms had either been illegally smuggled into the USA or illegally constructed within the USA. No new legal full-autos have been manufactured for the civilian population since 1986, causing the economic rules of supply and demand to drive the prices of existing automatic weapons well above the cost of manufacturing and distributing them. See also: Assault weapons ban (USA).
In the U.S., the major federal gun control legislation is the 1968 Gun Control Act, passed shortly after the assassinations of Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King. The act required that guns carry serial numbers and implemented a tracking system to determine the purchaser of a gun whose make, model, and serial number are known. It also prohibited gun ownership by convicted felons and certain other individuals. The Act was updated in the 1990s, mainly to add a mechanism for the criminal history of gun purchasers to be checked at the point of sale.
A patchwork of laws exists at state and local levels, with the state of Illinois, Washington, DC, and the city of New York having among the more restrictive limits; New York's Sullivan Act was passed in 1911. Many states implemented criminal background checks or "waiting periods" for handgun (pistol and revolver) purchasers in response to the gun control lobby in the 1980s. More recent lobbying efforts have resulted in the passage of laws making it a crime to leave guns in locations accessible to children.
Recent changes in the political landscape have brought about legislative initiatives to make it legal for common citizens to carry concealed guns with them for defense. Most states have various requirements for training and licensing for concealed carry. The notable exception is Vermont, which has never had any such restrictions in its history. A handful of other states had liberalized concealed carry regulations, allowing almost all law-abiding adult citizens with appropriate training to obtain carry permits. The trend toward liberalizing concealed carry regulations, however, did not begin in earnest until 1987. In that year, Florida became the first major state to liberalize its concealed carry regulation. Many other states have followed, for a total of 37 states having such laws on the books as of April 2004. Notably, no state that has passed a shall-issue law has yet repealed it legislatively. However, Minnesota's shall-issue law was invalidated by a state appeals court in 2005; the issue is currently on appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Like Vermont, Alaska has no requirement for a license or permit for any lawful gun owner to carry concealed handguns in public. However, unlike Vermont, Alaska has issued such permits to its residents in the past, and continues to issue new permits. There are three main reasons for this policy. First, several other states honor Alaska's permits, while no state (apart from Vermont and now Alaska) recognizes the concealed carry rights of non-residents without permits, even if carry without a permit is allowed in the person's home state. Second, all concealed carry permits in the United States, as long as they require a criminal background check, make their holders exempt from most prosecutions under the much disputed federal Gun Free School Zones Act . Finally, Alaska's permit is one of a small number of state permits that meet the federal criteria to exempt their holders from federal background checks to purchase firearms.
The status of these laws in the USA has changed dramatically since 1986, as seen below:
1986 - 8 shall-issue states, 20 may-issue, 21 no-issue, 1 unrestricted. 2004 - 38 shall-issue states, 6 may-issue, 4 no-issue, 2 unrestricted.
- Shall issue—Authorities are required to issue permits to all individuals who meet the state's issuance criteria. This category is also generally interpreted to include states where authorities have very limited discretion in permit issuance.
- May issue—Authorities have broad discretion as to whether to issue a permit to a given individual. Some may-issue states are, for all practical purposes, no-issue. Other may-issue states have policies that vary radically from one political subdivision to another, and are considered by some a means for politicians and public officials to elicit campaign contributions and/or bribes. For example, at one time, suspected mafia members made up a significant fraction of the few people in New York City with CCW permits.
- No-issue—Concealed carry is prohibited to the general public.
- Unrestricted—No permit required for concealed carry.
Both sides actively debate the relevance of self-defense in modern society. Some scholars, such as John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, claim to have discovered a positive correlation between gun control legislation and crimes in which criminals victimize law-abiding citizens. Lott asserts that criminals ignore gun control laws, and are effectively deterred by armed intended victims.
Advocates of gun control, however, assert that because criminals obtain guns by stealing them from law-abiding gun owners, restricting their availability would decrease supply to the criminal element.
Advocates of rights to gun ownership (gun rights) counter that since law abiding gun owners vastly outnumber the criminals who steal guns, the only way to eliminate this avenue of criminal gun ownership is to fully disarm all law abiding gun owners. Even then, just as with illegal drugs and illegal full-autos, the criminals would continue to smuggle guns into the USA from other nations. The Scotland Yard report on the illegal importation of firearms into the U.K., following the near total gun ban in that nation, is cited as an example of what happens when firearms are banned for law abiding citizens. The USA experience with Alcohol Prohibition and the current "War on Drugs" being other prime examples cited by gun rights advocates.
Non-defensive uses of guns, such as hunting, varmint control and the sport of target shooting, are often lost in the debate despite being the most common reasons for private gun ownership. This is perhaps because focusing on defense allows for the broadest coverage of firearms - it would be difficult to justify a weapon such as the Tec-9 (see Assault weapons ban (USA)) on sportsmanship grounds.
Despite the fact that no links to liberalized concealed-carry laws and increasing rates of crime have been demonstrated, these laws are still highly contentious. However, no state has seen cause to outlaw Concealed Carry again.
The numbers of lives saved or lost by gun ownership are hotly debated. Problems include the difficulty of accounting accurately for confrontations in which no shots are fired, and jurisdictional differences in the definition of "crime". For example, some have argued that American statistics tend to over-count violent crimes, while English statistics tend to under-count them.
Proponents of gun control frequently argue that carrying a concealed pistol would be of no practical use for personal self-defense. Proponents of gun rights argue that in the US, there are up to 2.5 million incidents per year in which a lawfully-armed citizen averts a crime by confronting a would-be attacker with a loaded gun. Those who advance these statistics point out that the deterrent effect would disproportionately benefit women, who are often targets of violent crime.
Gun control advocates insist that personal guns are an avoidable source of domestic accidents. The number of domestic accidents involving guns is hotly debated, however. For example, a commonly cited statistic concerning "child gun deaths" includes fatalities of individuals up to 25 years of age, including gang members and armed criminals. The American National Safety Council reports that there were 214 unintentional firearms-related deaths among Americans aged 0-19 in 1999, and a further 83 deaths where the intention could not be determined.
Security against tyranny and invasion
Another position taken by gun rights advocates is that an armed citizenry is the population's last line of defense against tyranny by their own government. They point out that many soldiers in the American Revolution were ordinary citizens using their privately owned firearms. Gun control advocates answer that it is unrealistic to suppose that private citizens could oppose a government which controls the full power of the US Armed Forces, were it to become tyrannical. Also, it is claimed that the people's power to replace elected officials by voting is sufficient to keep the government in check.
Indeed, there may be a historical regularity in that totalitarian regimes pass gun control legislation as a first step of their reign of terror. The sequence is supposed to be gun registration, followed some time later by confiscation. Nazi legislation is the most famous example of this sequence, but it also occurred in Marxist regimes.
However, this does not indicate that gun controls inevitably lead to totalitarianism. Gun control advocates point out that countries such as the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia have strict controls on gun ownership with democratic systems of government and low crime rates. Gun rights advocates counter that the current benevolent nature of a government does not predict its future.
Further, correlation between gun control and crime is inconsistent among countries. For instance, Switzerland has similar crime rates to Japan and Great Britain. In Switzerland, the purchase of semi automatic rifles and shotguns requires no permit, and adults are free to carry them. Handguns can be bought with firearm purchase permits, which are issued to all adults without a criminal record or a history of mental illness. About 40% of Switzerland's cantons (states) do not require a permit to carry a handgun. Switzerland has a citizen militia where most all men between the ages of 21 and 32 are required to keep fully automatic machine guns in their home. Italy has the most restrictive gun laws in Europe and the firearm homicide rate is twice that of Switzerland's. The homicide rate in Japan is similar to the homicide rate for Japanese-Americans, which implies it is the Japanese culture, and not the absence of guns that is responsible for Japan's low homicide rate. Also, according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, crime rates have risen in the England & Wales even as guns have become more regulated, with a doubling in the number of firearm homicides in England and Wales since they imposed their current gun laws. . http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/cjusew96.htm
Invasion by hostile outside forces is another reason gun rights advocates oppose registration. If captured, the associated records would provide invaders with a means of locating and eliminating law-abiding resistance fighters. Location and capture of such records is a standard doctrine taught to military intelligence officers. The risk of the capture of such records is recognized as legitimate; firearms dealers are asked to destroy their records if an invasion is underway. Registration aside, gun rights advocates point out that an armed citizenry is a strong deterrent against a foreign invasion. However, the most notable example of this argument - Switzerland's neutrality in the Second World War - has taken a major blow from the findings of Swiss complicity in German war crimes.
The Second Amendment
In the U.S., some of the controversy surrounding this issue is based on interpretation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gun control advocates claim protects "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" only as it relates to "a well-regulated militia". Gun rights advocates, however, view the provision as an absolute guarantee of the individual right to keep and bear arms.
On December 1, 2003 the United States Supreme Court refused to hear a Second Amendment challenge to California's Assault Weapons Ban. The High Court's action leaves undisturbed an earlier ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in Silveira v. Lockyer , upholding the California statute. The Ninth Circuit Court upheld their opinion that the Second Amendment does not apply to individuals rights, but only to collective rights. This is contrary to some other Circuit Courts, such as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals which explicitly ruled that the Second Amendment does apply to individual rights, and even referenced in one of their rulings that the 9th Circuit Court is incorrect. Therefore, the current legal situation is that until the Supreme Court will allow a case dealing with the Second Amendment to be heard, certain aspects of the Bill of Rights apply to inidivudals in some states of the union, while not to others.
The 9th Circuit case of United States v. Stewart in 2004 ruled that a home-built machine gun fell outside the interstate commerce regulatory authority of congress and therefore 1986 Gunowners Protection Act, which made possession of post-1986 machine guns illegal, was not in keeping with the commerce clause and therefore unconstitutional. The case is currently (2005) on the Supreme Court docket and may or may not ever be heard.
Furthermore, the 2003 case of US v Emerson recognised that the 2nd Amendment described an individual right but allowed that a temporary or transient infringment, such as seizing a persons firearms for the duration of a domestic violence-related temporary restraining order, was not sufficiently oppressive to infringe upon the phrase "shall not be infringed". It left open the question of whether 20,000 gun control laws, considered in aggregate, constitute in total an unconstitutional infringement.
Comparisons with other countries
The USA has the highest rate of deaths, injuries, and crimes (per capita) with guns in the world. Canada, with more restrictive gun legislation, has less than 10% (per capita) of gun-related crimes compared to the USA. Switzerland, with less restrictive gun legislation, also has less gun violence than the USA. However, it should be pointed out that the USA is effectively two nations with regard to gun laws. States with the most restrictive gun laws have the highest crime rates, while those with the more free laws have lower crime rates. This distinction is particularly noticable when one normalizes the demographics of states for ethnic and socio-economic factors.
Positions in the debate
In fact there are many positions, including those who wish to regulate guns without banning them.
Various terms have been used to describe each side, ranging from positive to neutral to uncomplimentary:
- Gun violence prevention advocates
- Gun safety advocates
- Gun control advocates
- Victim disarmament lobby
- Gun control lobby
- Gun control freaks
- Gun control fanatics
- Gun rights advocates
- Gun grabbers
- Gun nuts
- Gun lovers
- Gun lobby
- Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
- Bowling for Columbine
- Gun Politics
- National Rifle Association (NRA)
- Second Amendment Sisters
- Second Amendment to the United States Constitution
- Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO)
- Pink Pistols
- Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
- Gun Owners of America
- Handgun Free America
- Keep and Bear Arms
- National Rifle Association
- Total Gun Control
- The Bias Against Guns: Why Almost Everything You've Heard About Gun Control is Wrong, by John R. Lott, Jr., 2003, ISBN 0895261146
- Disarming America: A review of above book The Bias Against Guns
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