Gun politics in the United States: Wikis


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U.S. Firearms
Legal Topics
Assault weapons ban
ATF (law enforcement)
Brady Violence Prevention Act
Concealed carry in the U.S.
Federal Firearms License
Firearm case law
Firearm Owners Protection Act
Gun Control Act of 1968
Gun laws in the U.S. — by state
Gun laws in the U.S. — federal
Gun politics in the U.S.
National Firearms Act
Second Amendment
Straw purchase
Sullivan Act (New York)
Violent Crime Control Act

Gun politics in the United States, incorporating the political aspects of gun politics, and firearms rights, has long been among the most controversial and intractable issues in American politics.[1] For the last several decades, this debate has been characterized by stalemate between debate on an individual's right to firearms under the Constitution and the duty of government to prevent crime and maintain order.[2][3] In District of Columbia v. Heller, No. 07-290, the Supreme Court of the United States held that an individual right to bear arms is protected under the Second Amendment. Repeated polling has found that a majority of Americans believe that they have a right to own a gun[4][5] while at the same time a majority also believes that there is a need for stricter enforcement of current laws.[6] Relative to enacting new gun laws, however, the support drops to a minority; only 43 percent believe new laws would be more effective in reducing gun violence in the United States than the better enforcement of existing laws.[6]


Gun culture

In a seminal article, "America as a Gun Culture," the noted historian Richard Hofstadter popularized the phrase gun culture to describe America's long affection for the gun, embracing and celebrating the association of guns and America's heritage.[7] Thus, the right to own a gun and defend oneself is considered by some, especially those in the West and South, as central to the American identity. This stems in part from the nation's frontier history, where guns were integral to America's westward expansion, enabling settlers to guard themselves from Native Americans, animals and foreign armies, and citizens assumed much responsibility for self-protection. The importance of guns also derives from the role of hunting in American culture, which remains popular as a sport in the country today.[8]

This viewpoint has the least support in urban and industrialized regions.[8] A cultural tradition conflating violence and gun ownership with the "redneck" stereotype has negatively affected opinions in such regions.[9]

In 1995, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms estimated that the number of firearms available in the US was 223 million.[10] About 25% of the adults in the United States personally own a gun, the vast majority of them men.[11] About half of the adult U.S. population lived in households with guns.[12] Less than half of gun owners say that the primary reason they own a gun is for self-protection against crime, reflecting a popularity of hunting and sport-shooting among gun owners. As hunting and sport-shooting tends to favor rural areas, naturally the bulk of gun owners generally live in rural areas and small towns.[11] This attribute associates with low involvement in criminal violence, and therefore most guns are in the hands of people who are unlikely to misuse them and who tend to not have criminal records.[11]

Guns are prominent in contemporary U.S. popular culture as well, appearing frequently in movies, television, music, books, and magazines.[13]

Origins of gun culture

The origins of American gun culture trace back to the American Revolutionary War, hunting/sporting ethos and the militia/frontier ethos that draw from the country's early history.[3]

Calamity Jane, notable pioneer frontierswoman and scout, at age 43. Photo by H.R. Locke.

The hunting/sporting ethos comes from a time when the United States was an agrarian, subsistence nation where hunting was an auxiliary source of food for some settlers, and also a deterrence to animal predators. A connection between shooting skills and survival among rural American males was a 'rite of passage' for entering manhood. Today, hunting survives as a central sentimental component of the gun culture as a way to control animal populations across the country, regardless of the modern trend away from subsistence hunting and rural living.[3]

The militia/frontier ethos derives from an early American dependence on wits and skill to protect themselves from hostile Native Americans and, rarely, from foreign armies. Survival depended upon everyone being capable of carrying a weapon. In the Eighteenth Century, there was neither budget nor manpower nor government desire to maintain a full time army, believing they were a threat to the rights of the civilian populace. Therefore the armed citizen soldier carried the responsibility. Service in militia, including providing one’s own ammunition and weapons, was mandatory for all adult males. Yet, as early as the 1790s, the mandatory universal militia duty gave way to voluntary militia units and a reliance on a regular army, with a decline of the importance of militia trend continuing throughout the Nineteenth Century.[3]

Closely related to the militia tradition was the frontier tradition, with the westward movement closely associated with weaponry. In the Nineteenth Century firearms were closely associated with the westward expansion. Some historians believe that this perception that guns won the West springs from a mythology, and ignores the role of homesteaders, ranchers, miners, tradespeople and businessmen. In fact the so-called taming of the West was attributable to ranchers and farmers, not gun-slinging cowboys, though it must be noted that ranchers and farmers needed and used guns regularly for hunting and self defense. Regardless, today, there remains a powerful central elevation of the gun associated with the Hunting/Sporting and Militia/Frontier ethos among the American Gun Culture.[3] Though it has not been a necessary part of daily survival for a long time, generations of Americans have continued to embrace and glorify it as a living inheritance—a permanent ingredient of the nation's style and culture.[14]

Guns in popular culture

The gun has long been a symbol of power and masculinity.[15] In popular literature, frontier adventure was most famously told by James Fenimore Cooper, who is credited with creating archetype of the 18th-century frontiersman through such novels as "The Last of the Mohicans" (1826) and "The Deerslayer" (1840).[16]

A handbill for Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World'

In the late 1800s, cowboy and Wild West imagery entered the collective imagination. The first American female superstar, Annie Oakley, was a sharpshooter who toured the country starting in 1885, performing in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. The cowboy archetype of individualist hero was established largely by Owen Wister in stories and novels, most notably "The Virginian" (1902), following close on the heels of Theodore Roosevelt's "The Winning of the West" (1889–1895), a history of the early frontier.[17][18][19] Cowboys were also popularized in turn of the century cinema, notably through such early classics as "The Great Train Robbery" (1903) and "A California Hold Up" (1906)--the most commercially successful film of the pre-nickelodeon era.[20]

Gangster films began appearing as early as 1910, but became popular only with the advent of sound in film in the 1930s. The genre was boosted by the events of the prohibition era, such as bootlegging and the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929, the existence of real-life gangsters (e.g., Al Capone) and the rise of contemporary organized crime and escalation of urban violence. These movies flaunted the archetypal exploits of "swaggering, cruel, wily, tough, and law-defying bootleggers and urban gangsters".[21]

With the arrival of World War II, Hollywood produced many morale boosting movies, patriotic rallying cries that affirmed a sense of national purpose. The image of the lone cowboy was replaced in these combat films by stories that emphasized group efforts and the value of individual sacrifices for a larger cause, often featuring a group of men from diverse ethnic backgrounds who were thrown together, tested on the battlefield, and molded into a dedicated fighting unit.[22]

Guns frequently accompanied famous heroes and villains in late 20th century American films, from the outlaws of Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and The Godfather (1972), to the fictitious law and order avengers like Dirty Harry (1971) and Robocop (1987). In the 1970s, films portrayed fictitious and exaggerated characters, madmen ostensibly produced by the Vietnam war in films like Taxi Driver (1976) and Apocalypse Now (1979), while other films told stories of fictitious veterans who were supposedly victims of the war and in need of rehabilitation (Coming Home and The Deer Hunter, both 1978).[23] Many action films continue to celebrate the gun toting hero in fantastical settings. At the same time, the negative role of the gun in fictionalized modern urban violence has been explored in films like Boyz N the Hood (1991) and Menace 2 Society (1993).

History of gun politics

Revolutionary War

Gun politics as a political issue dates to the earliest days of the United States. (Lexington Minuteman representing militia minuteman John Parker. Statue is by Henry Hudson Kitson and it stands at the town green of Lexington, Massachusetts.)

Minutemen were members of teams of select men from the American colonial militia during the American Revolutionary War who vowed to be ready for battle against the British within one minute of receiving notice. On the night of April 18/April 19, 1775, minuteman Paul Revere spread the news that "the regulars are coming," but was captured before completing his mission when the British marched towards the arsenal in Lexington and Concord to collect the patriots' weapons.[24] The right to firearms was thus an issue in America from the very beginning.

Jacksonian Era

Painting of President Andrew Jackson based on 1824 study portrait by Thomas Sully.

The Jacksonian Era lasted roughly from President Andrew Jackson's 1828 election until the slavery issue became dominant after 1850. French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville traveled in America early during this era, and according to Tocqueville, a distinguishing characteristic of American society in the 1830s, the era of Jacksonian democracy, was "a pervasive spirit of individualism". The French commentator confessed that individualism was a novel term coined to capture a new idea."[25] During this same period, some of the first gun control laws were passed in the United States, and, as a result, the Individual Right interpretation of the Second Amendment began and grew in direct response to these early gun control laws, in keeping with this new "pervasive spirit of individualism".[26] As noted by Cornell, "Ironically, the first gun control movement helped give birth to the first self-conscious gun rights ideology built around a constitutional right of individual self-defense."[26]

The Individual Right interpretation of the Second Amendment first arose in Bliss v. Commonwealth (1822, KY),[27] which evaluated the right to bear arms in defence of themselves and the state pursuant to Section 28 of the Second Constitution of Kentucky (1799). The right to bear arms in defense of themselves and the state was interpreted as an individual right, for the case of a concealed sword cane. This case has been described as about “a statute prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons [that] was violative of the Second Amendment””.[28] As noted in the Northern Kentucky Law Review Second Amendment Symposium: Rights in Conflict in the 1980’s, vol. 10, no. 1, 1982, p. 155, "The first state court decision resulting from the "right to bear arms" issue was Bliss v. Commonwealth. The court held that "the right of citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State must be preserved entire, ..."" "This holding was unique because it stated that the right to bear arms is absolute and unqualified."[29][30]

Also during the Jacksonian Era, the first Collective Right interpretation of the Second Amendment arose. In State v. Buzzard (1842, Ark), the Arkansas high court adopted a militia-based, political right, reading of the right to bear arms under state law, and upheld the 21st section of the second article of the Arkansas Constitution that declared, "that the free white men of this State shall have a right to keep and bear arms for their common defense",[31] while rejecting a challenge to a statute prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons. The Arkansas high court declared "That the words "a well regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free State", and the words "common defense" clearly show the true intent and meaning of these Constitutions [i.e., Ark. and U.S.] and prove that it is a political and not an individual right, and, of course, that the State, in her legislative capacity, has the right to regulate and control it: This being the case, then the people, neither individually nor collectively, have the right to keep and bear arms." Joel Prentiss Bishop’s influential Commentaries on the Law of Statutory Crimes (1873) took Buzzard's militia-based interpretation, a view that Bishop characterized as the “Arkansas doctrine", as the orthodox view of the right to bear arms in American law.[31][32]

The two early state court cases, Bliss and Buzzard, set the fundamental dichotomy in interpreting the Second Amendment, i.e. whether it secured an Individual Right versus a Collective Right. A debate about how to interpret the Second Amendment evolved through the decades and remained unresolved until the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Antebellum era

Portrait of Dred Scott

One of the early political battles over the right to firearms involved the rights of slaves to carry firearms in the United States; the battle over the rights of slaves resulted in political battles, in the aftermath of the 1856 Supreme Court decision Dred Scott v. Sandford that denied Negroes the full rights of citizenship.[33][34] In Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856) (the "Dred Scott Decision"), the Supreme Court indicated that: "It would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognized as citizens in any one State of the Union ... the full liberty ... to keep and carry arms wherever they went."

The Dred Scott Decision contains additional significant wording:

More especially, it cannot be believed that the large slaveholding States regarded them as included in the word citizens, or would have consented to a Constitution which might compel them to receive them in that character from another State. For if they were so received, and entitled to the privileges and immunities of citizens, it would exempt them from the operation of the special laws and from the police regulations which they considered to be necessary for their own safety. It would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognized as citizens in any one State of the Union, the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, singly or in companies, without pass or passport, and without obstruction, to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased at every hour of the day or night without molestation, unless they committed some violation of law for which a white man would be punished; and it would give them the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went [emphasis added].

Reconstruction era

With the Civil War ending, the question of the rights of freed slaves to carry arms and to belong to militia came to the attention of the Federal courts. In response to the problems freed slaves faced in the Southern states, the Fourteenth Amendment was drafted.

Representative John A. Bingham of Ohio, principal framer of the Fourteenth Amendment

When the Fourteenth Amendment was drafted, Representative John A. Bingham of Ohio used the Court's own phrase "privileges and immunities of citizens" to include the first Eight Amendments of the Bill of Rights under its protection and guard these rights against state legislation.[35]

The debate in the Congress on the Fourteenth Amendment after the Civil War also concentrated on what the Southern States were doing to harm the newly freed slaves. One particular concern was the disarming of former slaves.

The Second Amendment attracted serious judicial attention with the Reconstruction era case of Cruikshank which ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not cause the Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment, to limit the powers of the State governments; stating that the Second Amendment "has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the national government."

Akhil Reed Amar notes in the Yale Law Journal, the basis of Common Law for the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which would include the Second Amendment, "following John Randolph Tucker's famous oral argument in the 1887 Chicago anarchist Haymarket Riot case, Spies v. Illinois":

Though originally the first ten Amendments were adopted as limitations on Federal power, yet in so far as they secure and recognize fundamental rights—common law rights—of the man, they make them privileges and immunities of the man as citizen of the United States...[36]

20th century

A famous and widely publicized case where fully automatic weapons were used in crime in the United States was during the Saint Valentine's Day massacre during the winter of 1929; this Prohibition-era gangster sub-machine gun mass murder led directly to the National Firearms Act of 1934, which was passed over a year after Prohibition had ended. Since 1934, fully automatic weapons have been heavily regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), but are available to citizens who are not otherwise prohibited, in those states that do not prohibit them, upon paying a $200 transfer tax, submission of a full set of fingerprints on FBI Form FD-258, certification provided by the local chief of police, sheriff of the county, head of the State police, or State or local district attorney or prosecutor, and approval by the BATF.[37][38] Other crimes involving fully automatic weapons in the United States have not been as widely publicized since.[39] However, the lesser known 1997 North Hollywood shootout involved two men carrying illegally modified automatic AKMs.[40]

In the latter half of the 20th Century, groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Gun Owners of America (GOA) organized voters and campaign volunteers to focus citizen communication and interest when gun control legislation was under consideration, both at federal and at state levels.

The United States had the least restrictive gun control laws in the developed world, except for Switzerland, in part due to the strength of the gun lobby, particularly the NRA.[41] The NRA historically supported gun laws intended to prevent criminals from obtaining firearms, while opposing new restrictions that affected law-abiding citizens[citation needed].

The GOA grew out of dissatisfaction with the NRA, and historically rejected any gun laws that infringed the rights of law-abiding citizens, putting it at odds with the NRA on many legislative issues.

Besides the GOA, other national gun rights groups often took a stronger stance than the NRA. These groups criticize the NRA's history of support for some gun control legislation, such as the Gun Control Act of 1968, the ban on armor-piercing projectiles, point-of-purchase background checks (NICS). Some of these groups are The Second Amendment Sisters, Second Amendment Foundation, and Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. These groups, like the GOA, believe any compromise leads to incrementally greater restrictions.[42][43]

Chaos outside the Washington Hilton Hotel after the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan. James Brady and police officer Thomas Delahanty lie wounded on the ground.

Handgun Control Inc. (HCI), founded in 1974 by businessman Pete Shields, formed a partnership with the National Coalition to Ban Handguns (NCBH), also founded in 1974. Soon parting ways, the NCBH was renamed the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence in 1990, and while smaller than HCI, generally took a tougher stand on gun regulation than HCI.[44]

HCI saw an increase of interest and fund raising in the wake of the 1980 murder of John Lennon. By 1981 membership exceeded 100,000. Measured in dollars contributed to congressional campaigns, HCI contributed $75,000. Following the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan, and the resultant injury of James Brady, Sarah Brady joined the board of HCI in 1985. HCI was renamed in 2001 to Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.[45]

In the 1990s, gun politics took a turn to the right in response to two high profile ATF incidents, Waco and Ruby Ridge, that led to mobilization of modern militia groups.[46] These incidents combined with the passage of the Brady Act in 1993 and the Assault Weapons Ban a year later increased the fears of those who felt the Federal Government would confiscate their firearms.[44][47] The Militia Movement expanded throughout the 1990s.

21st century

Memorial on Virginia Tech's drillfield after the April 16, 2007 Virginia Tech massacre

The NRA opposed bans on handguns in Washington D.C. and San Francisco, while also supporting the 2007 NICS Improvement Amendments Act (H.R. 2640), which strengthened requirements for background checks for firearm purchases.[48]

The GOA especially took issue with the NRA over a portion of the 2007 "The School Safety And Law Enforcement Improvement Act" known as The NICS Improvement Amendments Act, which they termed the "Veteran's Disarmament Act".[49]

Besides the GOA, other national gun rights groups continue to take a stronger stance than the NRA. Groups such as The Second Amendment Sisters, Second Amendment Foundation, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, and the Pink Pistols continue much as they did in the late 20th Century, but new groups have also arisen, such as the Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, which grew largely out of safety-issues with 'Gun-free' zones that are legislatively mandated at many schools, amidst a response to widely publicized school shootings. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pitched in, with an extensive study on gun control[50] which found "Evidence was insufficient to determine the effectiveness of any of these laws for the following reasons."

Hattie Johnson of Idaho won a bronze medal in shooting at the 2003 Pan Am Games.

In District of Columbia v. Heller, No. 07-290, the United States Supreme Court held that Americans have an individual right under the Second Amendment to possess firearms "for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home". It is an appeal from Parker v. District of Columbia, 478 F.3d 370 (D.C. Cir. 2007), a decision in which the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit became the first federal appeals court in the United States to rule that a firearm ban unconstitutionally infringes the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the second to expressly interpret the Second Amendment as protecting an individual right to possess firearms for private use. The first federal case that interpreted the Second Amendment as protecting an individual right was United States v. Emerson, 270 F.3d 203 (5th Cir. 2001).[51]

According to The Center for Public Integrity, 145 groups are registered as making gun-related filings to lobby Congress, the largest being the National Rifle Association, spending about $1.5 million per year, predominantly through two lobbying firms, the WPP Group and The Federalist Group.[52] Ranked by total filings, gun-rights lobbying exceeded gun-control lobbying by the ratio of approximately 3:1.[53]

Measured in dollars, in 2007, gun rights political spending on lobbying totaled $1,959,407 versus gun control spending of $60,800.[54] The NRA is the largest gun rights lobbying organization in the United States.

Regional and partisan divides

Regional differences tend to be greater than partisan ones for gun politics in the United States. Jurisdictions that favor gun control are concentrated along the Eastern Seaboard such as New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, and Maryland, but also include States with major metropolitan areas, notably California and Illinois. The Northwest, such as Montana, Idaho and Washington; the Deep South, including Alabama, Georgia and Florida; and the Southwest, such as Texas, New Mexico, and Utah tend to support gun rights. Other areas, including the Midwest and Plains States, are mixed.[55] Alaska and Vermont do not require any license in order to carry concealed weapons in public places, but there are laws in these states prohibiting concealed weapons in certain places (e.g., in Alaska it is not permitted to carry a weapon, concealed or otherwise, into a bar or tavern).[56] The spread of concealed carry laws since 1986 in those states that tend to be in support of gun rights has led to the widespread, legally permitted, carrying of concealed handguns by civilians in many parts of the United States. Opinions on gun control can vary within a jurisdiction. Texas, for example, though it is stereotypically known as "gun-friendly", encompasses many demographics from small conservative farming/ranching communities to several liberal large cities (including Houston, Dallas, and Austin), therefore attitudes toward gun possession and carry tend to be mixed. Similar situations can be found in other states, and in general, large urban jurisdictions tend to favor gun control to reduce crime, while rural populations and small towns oppose it for much the same reason.

Gun control is not strictly a partisan issue, however there is more support for it in the Democratic Party; this is somewhat less so in the Republican Party.[57] The Libertarian Party, whose campaign platforms favor classical liberal (i.e. limited) government and individual rights, is outspokenly against gun control, and this stance is more ideological than the stance of the Republican Party, which represents people who tend to oppose gun regulations.

Types of firearms

Political Scientist Earl Kruschke has described how, in the gun control debate, firearms have been viewed in only three general classes by gun control advocates: 1) long guns 2) hand guns and 3) automatic and semi-automatic weapons. The first category has generally been associated with sporting and hunting uses; the second category, handguns, describe weapons which can be held with one hand such as pistols and revolvers; and the third general category has been most commonly associated in public political perception with military uses. Notably the AR-15 and AK-47 style firearms have contributed to this perception.

If sometimes confused in public debate, the two firearm types in the third general category are functionally and legally distinct. Fully automatic firearms of any kind (including military assault rifles) have been subject to requirements for registration by owners and licensing of dealers since the passage of the National Firearms Act in 1934. Further import restrictions were part of the Gun Control Act of 1968, and the transfer of newly manufactured machine-guns to private citizens was banned with passage of the Firearm Owners Protection Act in 1986. New machine-guns in the US are still legal for purchase by the military and by governmental agencies, including civilian law enforcement; pre-1986 registered machine-guns are available to private citizens with federal registration (where permitted by state law), and have reached high market prices, eagerly sought by collectors because of their relative scarcity. An expansion has occurred in the number of states where such automatic weapons may legally be owned; for example, automatic-weapons were recently legalized in Kansas.[58]

Many semi-automatic versions of military assault rifles—and the larger 20- or 30-round magazines they typically use—are again available for purchase by private citizens in the US (except where prohibited by state or municipal bans) since the "sunsetting" of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban on September 14, 2004. Some continue to be banned due to a 1989 amending of the Gun Control Act, which made some foreign-made firearms illegal for importation. However, firearms similar to those affected by the importation ban can now be manufactured domestically.[59][60]

In general terms, gun control advocates have paid little concern to the long guns used for sporting purpose as long guns are generally not viewed as associated with violent crime or suicide. For example, in 2005, 75% of the 10,100 homicides committed using firearms in the United States were committed using handguns, compared to 4% with rifles, 5% with shotguns, and the rest with type of firearm not specified.[61] Non-criminal homicides (i.e., acts of self-defense) and criminal homicides were counted together simply as homicides in these data.[61]

Kruschke describes incidents where public political perceptions have been shaped by a few high profile violent crimes associated with automatic and semi-automatic weapons, resulting in a relatively small percentage of the crime in absolute numbers, none-the-less have brought public focus on that type of weapon.[62]

Kruschke states, however, regarding the fully automatic firearms owned by private citizens in the United States, that "approximately 175,000 automatic firearms have been licensed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (the federal agency responsible for administration of the law) and evidence suggests that none of these weapons has ever been used to commit a violent crime."[63]

Likewise, Kruschke states that automatic weapons are different than common semi-automatic hunting weapons, as the "most common examples [of automatic weapons] are machine guns, submachine guns, and certain types of military and police rifles".[64] This recognizes that there are semi-automatic household guns that are in widespread use like the .22 caliber Marlin Model 60 hunting rifle. Similarly, although Kruschke claims long guns are not being used in suicide, there are in fact instances of long guns that are used for suicides.[65] Although Krushke describes that semi-automatic and automatic weapons are associated with military uses, he acknowledges[64] that the US Government distinguishes[66] semi-automatic guns in a different category from fully automatic guns.

Pro-gun groups claim that confusing voters about different types of guns continues to be a strategy of gun-control groups, who in turn claim that certain types of firearms are either particularly unsafe, particularly likely to be used in crime, or particularly unsuited for "sporting purposes," and therefore should be banned. The types of guns so designated has included: any small, inexpensive handgun ("junk gun" or "Saturday night special"[67]), any handgun weighing more than 50 ounces,[68] any handgun not incorporating either new "smart-gun"[69] or "micro-stamping"[70] abilities, all handguns,[71] semi-automatic "assault weapons" (using either the 1994 definition[72] or a more expansive definition[73]), and .50 caliber rifles.[74]

The current bid to ban .50 caliber rifles nationally shows the typical issues that arise in campaigns to ban certain firearm types. Pro-ban groups have preferred the phrase "Sniper Rifle Ban" to promote the law, even though the .50 caliber rifles are typically considered "counter-sniper" and "anti-matériel" weapons.[75] In fact, the term "sniper rifle" implies a much broader range of rifles:[76] the US M24 and M40 military sniper rifles are bolt-action, 7.62 mm caliber weapons with telescopic sights (both models being variants of the civilian Remington Model 700); the "D.C. Snipers" used a .223 semi-automatic rifle; and Charles Whitman, the 1966 "Texas Tower Sniper," used a common scoped hunting rifle (as did many of the private citizens who returned fire that day). Pro-gun groups see the attempts to ban .50-cal rifles as the first step toward banning an ever-expanding "sniper gun" or "high-powered rifle" category.[77] In promoting a California .50 caliber ban, the LAPD received criticism for deceiving the public when a police-owned Barrett M82 was produced for a press conference supporting the ban, while never mentioning that the rifle was already banned by existing state law.[78]

Political arguments

Political arguments of gun politics in the United States center around disagreements that range from the practical – does gun ownership cause or prevent crime? – to the constitutional – how should the Second Amendment be interpreted? – to the ethical – what should the balance be between an individual's right of self-defense through gun ownership and the People's interest in maintaining public safety? Political arguments about gun rights fall into two basic categories, first, does the government have the authority to regulate guns, and second, if it does, is it effective public policy to regulate guns.[45]

The first category, collectively known as rights-based arguments, consist of Second Amendment arguments, state constitution arguments, right of self-defense arguments, and security against tyranny and invasion arguments. Public policy arguments, the second category of arguments, revolve around the importance of a militia, the reduction of gun violence and firearm deaths, and also can include arguments regarding security against foreign invasions.

The courts and the law

Supreme Court decisions

Since the late nineteenth century, with three key cases from the pre-incorporation era, the Supreme Court consistently ruled that the Second Amendment (and the Bill of Rights) restricts only the federal Congress, and not the States, in the regulation of guns.[79] Scholars predicted that the Court's incorporation of other rights suggests that they may incorporate the Second, should a suitable case come before them.[80]

"Americans also have a right to defend their homes, and we need not challenge that. Nor does anyone seriously question that the Constitution protects the right of hunters to own and keep sporting guns for hunting game any more than anyone would challenge the right to own and keep fishing rods and other equipment for fishing – or to own automobiles. To "keep and bear arms" for hunting today is essentially a recreational activity and not an imperative of survival, as it was 200 years ago. "Saturday night specials" and machine guns are not recreational weapons and surely are as much in need of regulation as motor vehicles." — Ex-Chief Justice Warren Burger, 1990.[81]

Until recently, there had been only one modern Supreme Court case that dealt directly with the Second Amendment, United States v. Miller.[82] In that case, the Supreme Court did not address the incorporation issue, but the case instead hinged on whether a sawed-off shotgun "has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia."[80] In quashing the indictment against Miller, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas stated that the National Firearms Act of 1934, "offend[ed] the inhibition of the Second Amendment to the Constitution." The federal government then appealed directly to the US Supreme Court. On appeal the federal government did not object to Miller's release since he had died by then, seeking only to have the trial judge's ruling on the unconstitutionality of the federal law overturned. Under these circumstances, neither Miller nor his attorney appeared before the US Supreme Court to argue the case. The Court only heard argument from the federal prosecutor. In its ruling, the Supreme Court overturned the trial court and upheld the law. For a more complete reading of this case, see Reynolds, Glenn Harlan and Denning, Brannon P., "Telling Miller's Tale" . 65 Law & Contemp. Probs. 113 (Spring 2002).[83]

District of Columbia v. Heller

On June 26, 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller,[84] the United States Supreme Court affirmed, by a 5-4 vote, the decision of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.[85] This decision struck down the D.C. gun law. It also clarifies the scope of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, stating that it stipulates an individual right irrespective of membership in a militia. However, the court made it clear that like other rights, the right to bear arms is not without limitations, leaving open the prospect of reasonable governmental regulation. The decision declined to rule on the incorporation of the Second Amendment, leaving its applicability to the states unsettled ("While the status of the Second Amendment within the twentieth-century incorporation debate is a matter of importance for the many challenges to state gun control laws, it is an issue that we need not decide."[86]). After the decision in Heller was released, the D.C. government passed emergency legislation that would ban semiautomatic handguns, but allow unloaded revolvers, prompting petitioner Heller to launch another legal action.[87] However, in September 2008, the D.C. Council relented and allowed the possession of most semi-automatic handguns, without a trigger lock or unloading requirement.[88] Simultaneously, H.R. 6691 is a bipartisan bill currently in the U.S. House of Representatives, that would require the D.C. government to comply with the decision in Heller, and eliminate most gun restrictions in the district, including allowing residents to purchase firearms in neighboring Maryland and Virginia.[88] As of September 16, 2008, the legislation has enough bipartisan support to pass through the House, but has not yet been addressed by the U.S. Senate.[88]

Gun laws

Mall of America sign advising that guns are prohibited in these premises per Minnesota law

Gun control laws and regulations exist at all levels of government, with the vast majority being local codes which vary between jurisdictions. The NRA reports 20,000 gun laws nationwide.[89] A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine notes 300 federal and state laws regarding the manufacture, design, sale, purchase, or possession of guns.[90]

At the federal level, fully automatic weapons and short barrel shotguns have been taxed and mandated to be registered since 1934 with the National Firearms Act. The Gun Control Act of 1968 adds prohibition of mail-order sales and prohibits transfers to minors. The 1968 Act requires 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 with the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, mainly to add a mechanism for the criminal history of gun purchasers to be checked at the point of sale, and in 1996 with the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban to prohibit ownership and use of guns by individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence.

The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act enacted the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which banned the purchase, sale, or transfer of any weapon specifically named in the act, other weapons with a certain number of "defining features", and detachable magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, that had been manufactured after the beginning date of the ban. The Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, but H.R. 6257 introduced June 12, 2008 seeks to re-instate the ban indefinitely as well as to expand the list of banned weapons. Three co-sponsors (as of June 18, 2008) support it.[91] New York, California, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Connecticut, and New Jersey and several local jurisdictions have codified some provisions of the now expired 2004 Federal ban into State and local law.

See also


  1. ^ Wilcox, Clyde; Bruce, John W. (1998). The changing politics of gun control. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 1–4. ISBN 0847686140. 
  2. ^ Wilcox, Clyde; Bruce, John W. (1998). The changing politics of gun control. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 4. ISBN 0-8476-8615-9. "For many years this policy arena has been characterized by stalemate between an organized outspoken minority and an ambivalent majority" 
  3. ^ a b c d e Spitzer, Robert J.: The Politics of Gun Control, Chapter 1. Chatham House Publishers, 1995.
  4. ^ Wright, James D.: Public Opinion and Gun Control: A Comparison of Results from Two Recent National Surveys. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 455. (May 1981)
  5. ^ "Majority in U.S. poll support gun ownership rights -". Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  6. ^ a b "Gun Poll: Men, women differ widely in gun control poll". Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  7. ^ Hofstadter, Richard. "America as a Gun Culture." American Heritage Magazine, October 1970.
  8. ^ a b "A look inside America's gun culture", ABC News Online, 2007-04-17
  9. ^ William B. Bankston, Carol Y. Thompson, Quentin A. L. Jenkins, Craig J. Forsyth (1990) The Influence of Fear of Crime, Gender, and Southern Culture on Carrying Firearms for Protection. The Sociological Quarterly 31 (2) , 287–305
  10. ^ "Bureau of Justice Statistics Selected Findings". Retrieved 2008-01-21. 
  11. ^ a b c Cook, Philip J.; Ludwig, Jens (2003). Evaluating gun policy: effects on crime and violence. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press. pp. s. 3,4. ISBN 0-8157-5311-X. 
  12. ^ "Gun Control", Just the Facts, 2005-12-30 (revised)
  13. ^ "Report Urges FCC to Regulate TV Violence". The Washington Post. 2007-02-16. Retrieved 2008-01-27. 
  14. ^ JERVIS ANDERSON, GUNS IN AMERICA 10 (1984), page 21
  15. ^ Sidel, Victor W.; Wendy Cukier (2005). The Global Gun Epidemic: From Saturday Night Specials to AK-47s. Praeger Security International General Interest-Cloth. p. 130. ISBN 0-275-98256-4. 
  16. ^ James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)
  17. ^ "American Literature: Prose, MSN Encarta". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. 
  18. ^ New Perspectives on the West: Theodore Roosevelt, PBS, 2001
  19. ^ "Owen Wister (1860-1938)", Petri Liukkonen, Authors' Calendar, 2002
  20. ^ "Western Films", Tim Dirks, Filmsite, 1996-2007
  21. ^ "Crime and Gangster Films", Tim Dirks, Filmsite, 1996-2007
  22. ^ Hollywood as History: Wartime Hollywood, Digital History
  23. ^ Hollywood as History: The "New" Hollywood, Digital History
  24. ^ Wills, Garry (1999). A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government, Page 33. New York, NY; Simon & Schuster
  25. ^ Cornell, Saul (2006). A WELL-REGULATED MILITIA – The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 138. ISBN 978-0-19-514786-5. 
  26. ^ a b Cornell, Saul (2006). A WELL-REGULATED MILITIA – The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 140–141. ISBN 978-0-19-514786-5. 
  27. ^ Bliss v. Commonwealth, 2 Littell 90 (KY 1882).
  28. ^ United States. Anti-Crime Program. Hearings Before Ninetieth Congress, First Session. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off, 1967, p. 246.
  29. ^ Pierce, Darell R. (1982). "Second Amendment Survey". Northern Kentucky Law Review Second Amendment Symposium: Rights in Conflict in the 1980's 10 (1). 
  30. ^ Two states, Alaska and Vermont, do not require a permit or license for carrying a concealed weapon to this day, following Kentucky's original position.
  31. ^ a b State v. Buzzard, 4 Ark. (2 Pike) 18 .
  32. ^ Cornell, Saul (2006). A WELL-REGULATED MILITIA – The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 188. ISBN 978-0-19-514786-5. "”Dillon endorsed Bishop's view that Buzzard's “Arkansas doctrine,” not the libertarian views exhibited in Bliss, captured the dominant strain of American legal thinking on this question.”" 
  33. ^ Fehrenbacher, Don Edward. The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics. Oxford University Press: 2001. ISBN 0-19-514588-7.
  34. ^ The United States Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, "The Case of Dred Scott in the United States Supreme Court"
  35. ^ Kerrigan, Robert (June 2006) (PDF). The Second Amendment and related Fourteenth Amendment. 
  36. ^ Amar, Akhil Reed (April 1992). "The Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment". Yale Law Journal: 1193. 
  37. ^ "Firearms frequently asked questions". Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  38. ^ "Firearms frequently asked questions". Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  39. ^ Boston T. Party (Kenneth W. Royce) (1998). Boston on Guns & Courage. Javelin Press. pp. 3:15. 
  40. ^ "Botched L.A. bank heist turns into bloody shootout". CNN. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  41. ^ Thomas, David C. (2000). Canada and the United States: Differences that Count, Second Edition. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press. p. 71. ISBN 1-55111-252-3.,+and+in%22+%22particular+the+National+Rifle+Association%22&ei=UWb2R5fQCKautgOHqK2kCQ&client=firefox-a&sig=haCK2FRRWxPYMAEE7TuJksqTc8s. 
  42. ^ Singh, Robert P. (2003). Governing America: the politics of a divided democracy. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. p. 368. ISBN 0-19-925049-9. 
  43. ^ Daynes, Byron W.; Tatalovich, Raymond (2005). Moral controversies in American politics. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe. p. 172. ISBN :0765614200. 
  44. ^ a b Wilcox, Clyde; Bruce, John W. (1998). The changing politics of gun control. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 183. ISBN 0-8476-8615-9. 
  45. ^ a b Spitzer, Robert J.: The Politics of Gun Control. Chatham House Publishers, Inc., 1995
  46. ^ Crothers, Lane (2003). Rage on the right: the American militia movement from Ruby Ridge to homeland security. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 97. ISBN 0742525465. 
  47. ^ Snow, Robert J. (2002). Terrorists among us: the militia threat. Cambridge, Mass: Perseus. pp. s 85, 173. ISBN 0-7382-0766-7. 
  48. ^ "Congress Passes Bill to Stop Mentally Ill From Getting Guns", Washington Post, December 20, 2007 "Congress yesterday approved legislation that would help states more quickly and accurately identify potential firearms buyers with mental health problems that disqualify them from gun ownership under federal law.... The NRA supports the bill..."
  49. ^ "Gun owners get stabbed in back". World Net Daily. December 23, 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  50. ^ "First Reports Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Violence: Firearms Laws". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. October 3, 2003. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  51. ^ For more information concerning District of Columbia v Heller, please refer to the District of Columbia v. Heller page.
  52. ^ The Center for Public Integrity, National Rifle Association lobbying history
  53. ^ The Center for Public Integrity, Guns, Ammunition & Firearms lobbying history
  54. ^ The Center for Responsive Politics, Annual Lobbying on Ideology/Single-Issue database.
  55. ^ A look inside America's gun culture, ABC News Online, 2007-04-17
  56. ^ "Worker right or workplace danger?", The Christian Science Monitor, 2005-08-12
  57. ^ Spitzer, Robert J.: "The Politics of Gun Control", Page 16. Chatham House Publishers, Inc., 1995.
  58. ^ Automatic weapons now legal in Kansas -
  59. ^ [1] SIG-Sauer 556 replaces its 550,
  60. ^ MSAR offers the Steyr AUG-based STG-556,
  61. ^ a b "Expanded Homicide Data Table 7 - Murder Victims by Weapon, 2001-2005". Federal Bureau of Investigation. 
  62. ^ Kruschke, Earl R. (1995). Gun control: a reference handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO. pp. s 18, 19. ISBN 0-87436-695-X. 
  63. ^ Kruschke, Earl R. (1995). Gun control: a reference handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO. p. 85. ISBN 0-87436-695-X. 
  64. ^ a b Kruschke, Earl R. (1995). Gun control: a reference handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO. pp. s. 375, 386. ISBN 0-87436-695-X. 
  65. ^ Brent, D. A.; Perper, J. A.; Moritz, G.; Baugher, M.; Schweers, J.; Roth, C. (October 1993). Firearms and adolescent suicide. A community case-control study. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 
  66. ^ Semi-automatic refers to “an autoloading action that will fire only a single shot for each single function for a trigger” whereas fully automatic refers to the “capability to fire a succession of cartridges so long as the trigger is depressed or until the ammunition supply is exhausted”.U.S. Department of Justice (July 1995). "Guns Used in Crime". U.S. Department of Justice. 
  67. ^ "Saturday Night Specials," NRA-ILA Fact Sheet
  68. ^ Federal Assault Weapons Ban, Wikipedia
  69. ^ "'Smart' Guns," NRA-ILA
  70. ^ "Kennedy Introduces a Handgun Ban in Congress Again," NRA-ILA Fact Sheet
  71. ^ "Unsafe in Any Hands: Why America needs to Ban Handguns" Violence Prevention Center
  72. ^ US BATFE (2004). "Semiautomatic Assault Weapon (SAW) Ban QUESTIONS & ANSWERS". 
  73. ^ The Federal Assault Weapons Ban: The Ban Must be Renewed and Strengthened, Violence Policy Center
  74. ^ "Why regulate 50 caliber sniper rifles?" Violence Policy Center
  75. ^ Large caliber sniper rifles, Wikipedia
  76. ^ List of sniper rifles, Wikipedia
  77. ^ Norell, J.O.E.:"Only a .50 Caliber Ban? Don't You Believe It!," NRA-ILA
  78. ^ Ronnie Barrett (2002). "Barrett Firearms Letter of Opposition to the proposed LA Ammo Ban". 
  79. ^ See U.S. v. Cruikshank 92 U.S. 542 (1876), Presser v. Illinois 116 U.S. 252 (1886), Miller v. Texas 153 U.S. 535 (1894)
  80. ^ a b Levinson, Sanford: The Embarrassing Second Amendment, 99 Yale L.J. 637-659 (1989)
  81. ^ Burger, Warren E., Chief Justice of the United States (1969-86): Parade Magazine, January 14, 1990, pages 4-6
  82. ^ United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939)
  83. ^ "Telling Miller's Tale", Reynolds, Glenn Harlan and Denning, Brannon P.
  84. ^ case no. 07-290
  85. ^ This is the case decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit as Parker v. District of Columbia. See also District of Columbia v. Heller for more information about this landmark U.S. Sup. Ct. decision.
  86. ^ District of Columbia v. Heller (PDF)
  87. ^
  88. ^ a b c
  89. ^ Spitzer, Robert J.: The Politics of Gun Control", page 1. Chatham House Publishers, Inc., 1995
  90. ^ American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 28, Issue 2, Pages 40-71 R. Hahn, O. Bilukha, A. Crosby, M. Fullilove, A. Liberman, E. Moscicki, S. Snyder, F. Tuma, P. Briss
  91. ^ HR 6257

External links

Pro gun regulation links

Pro gun rights links

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