The 2nd Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution is commonly known to ordinary civilians, “the Right to Bear Arms.” However, the United States Supreme Court has officially interpreted that the Second Amendment gives an individual the right to possess a weapon unrelated to military service for traditionally lawful purposes such as self-defense. There are many civilians in our nation who believe that the Second Amendment means the possession of firearms, and due to the mass shootings that have happened and are still happening around the country, many of the people have decided that it is in the country’s best interest to have the civilian right to bear arms revoked, protesting the right to firearms. From the 1930s to the 2000s, the federal government implemented different major federal firearms laws; regardless of these numerous regulations and laws, gun control activists believe that the civilian right to bear arms should be controlled due to the recent rise in firearm-related injuries and deaths, while gun rights activists argue that gun control laws infringe upon people’s rights and citizens should have the right to use and own firearms for lawful and recreation reasons, and correspondingly, the federal and state government has upheld the regulations or the Second Amendment in different court cases.
The federal government of the United States has passed several major firearms laws with different purposes to regulate gun control for both citizens and officers of the law without violating the Second Amendment. Since the first firearm legislation passed in 1927, the federal government has enacted several crucial legislations and regulations about firearms that have stayed within the boundaries of the Second Amendment, and to keep the public safe: the National Firearms Act of 1934, the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, ruling from United States v. Miller, and the Gun Control Act of 1968. Each legislation passed had an effect on firearms users and the rest of the public.
The National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) introduced a tax on the manufacturing and transporting of firearms, as well as a specific employment tax on the people and entities involved in the manufacturing, importing/exporting, and dealing in the NFA specified firearms. However, as stated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the National Firearm Act of 1934 had an intrinsic purpose to abridge, if not completely ban, transactions of NFA defined firearms. Additionally, the NFA imposed a requirement on all people transporting or transferring NFA defined firearms, including all possessors of unregistered firearms, to register them with the Secretary of the Treasury. This legislation affected the public in which if a person went to register an unregistered firearm, the State could use information acquired from the Department of Treasury and prosecute the individual involved; Supreme Court ruled this legislation unconstitutional in United States v. Haynes, with the Haynes decision essentially nullifying the NFA.
Another gun control milestone was the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, which is still in effect today. The Federal Firearms Act of 1938 (FFA) as opposed to the NFA mandates that firearm manufacturers and dealers acquire a federal firearms license (FFL). This in turn has allowed federal firearms licensed gun dealers and manufacturers to keep customer records, and defined groups of people who weren’t allowed to purchase guns. In United States v. Miller the Supreme Court ruled that Congress could regulate interstate selling of a sawed off shotgun through the NFA, and that such a weapon has “reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia”. The Gun Control Act of 1968 was and currently is a federal law that regulates interstate and foreign commerce in firearms. The Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed following the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and currently imposes strict licensing and regulation of the firearms industry. GCA also currently establishes new groups of firearms offenses and crimes and bans the sale of firearms or other weapons to convicted felons and certain other people. Title II of the GCA amended the National Firearms Act to cure the constitutional flaw uncovered in the Haynes decision. The Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986, Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, and the NICS Improvement Act of 2008 are all incorporated acts in the GCA. Each incorporated act gave safety to both gun owners and the general public. These different major gun control legislations provided by control and safety to the general public, while not violating the gun owners’ Second Amendment rights of the Constitution.
The debate around gun control and the people’s constitutional right to guns is a hot, controversial topic, and many gun control activists believe that gun violence is a gargantuan problem in the United States, and that the recent rise of gun violence that results in gun-related injuries and death is a call for stricter laws. How much has gun violence resulting in injury and death increased? The number of different acts of gun violence that resulted in injury and death, for example, in the year 2015 have risen, and gun control proponents use the statistics taken on the reported incidents to support their cause. For example, a shooting is one form of gun violence that results in gun-related injury and death; in the year of 2015 alone, according to PBS.org, Oldham (2016) stated that the total number of shootings tallied was 372 incidents (para. 2). Additionally, according to the New York Times, in the year 2016, Hauser (2017) stated that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the firearm mortality rate in the United States had risen up to about 12 per 100,000 people (para. 1). Gun homicide, another form of gun violence resulting in gun-related deaths, is also a reason why gun control advocates want regulations on the purchase and use of firearms. Gun homicides do not get as much media attention as shootings, but on average, 34 people in America are murdered, as stated by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Shootings and gun-related homicides are just two of many different forms of gun violence that result in injury and death.
In conjunction with these two forms of gun violence, gun control advocacy organizations argue that the major firearms laws and regulations passed by Congress should be maintained to curb the number of deaths caused by firearms. Gun control advocates argue that the allowing of civilian access to assault weapons leads to mass casualties. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban, also known as the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Act, is one legislation that gun control advocacy organizations are arguing to bring back, as the act expired in 2004. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban banned the civilian use of automatic and semi-automatic weapons and large capacity magazines. Organizations such as a Coalition to Stop Gun Violence have persistently advocated the renewal of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, stating that “assault weapons are designed to maximize lethality,” and that “they are intended to kill as many humans as possible as quickly as possible.”
Gun control activists often argue that the laws and regulations currently in place are too lenient in regards to the accessibility of firearms, and that because of the dangers guns pose, criminals or people who are not fit to handle such a weapon should be thoroughly have their background checked. Correspondingly, firearms control advocates argue that licensed dealers who sell to criminals, or “bad apple” firearms dealers, and lack of background checks also contributes to the rise in gun-related injury and death. These advocates believe that stricter laws on these licensed dealers and background checks are needed because people with nefarious purposes have and can access them without much difficulty. As stated by Everytown for Gun Safety, thousands of guns are available for sale from unlicensed online dealers without, despite the federal law that mandates licensed gun dealers conduct background checks for all guns sales. Similarly, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Violence believes that “bad apple” gun dealers are responsible for most of the guns used in crimes that result in death all across the United States.
Gun rights advocates argue the very opposite. Gun rights advocates have argued that the gun control laws infringe upon the right to self-defense and deny people a sense of safety. Additionally, gun rights activist also argue that by implementing gun control laws, particularly those that restrict and/or ban assault weapons, infringe upon the right to own guns for recreation such as hunting or sport. Advocates of the Second Amendment also argue that gun control laws will not stop criminals from using firearms as a weapon, as it the the criminal who uses the gun to hurt, not the gun in and of itself. Gun rights advocates and others who support the Second Amendment relative to other arms have acknowledged that there should be certain laws that restrict guns, but in a way that does not violate the people’s constitutional right to bear arms, firearms and other weapons included.
Since the formation of the United States Constitution, gun rights advocacy organizations argue that the citizens of the United States have earned the constitutional right to use/carry firearms or any other form of arms to protect themselves in self-defense against criminals, as shown in different Supreme Court cases. One landmark Supreme Court case that involved the Second Amendment is District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008. This case’s ruling set a precedent for gun rights advocates because the ruling struck down provisions of a D.C. law that prohibited handgun possession making the carrying of unregistered firearms and prohibiting the registration of handguns a crime. This District of Columbia law also required that no person was allowed to carry an unlicensed handgun and residents to keep all owned firearms unloaded and/or bound by a trigger lock or similar device (District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008). The Supreme Court’s ruling that the District of Columbia’s law was unconstitutional was a huge step for gun rights advocates and their views on civilian gun ownership.
The United States Supreme Court has had many landmark cases in which the Court either upheld a firearms regulation/law or upheld the Second Amendment for the people. In addition to the case of District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 and Haynes v. United States in 1968, there have been several recent cases involving the Second Amendment, both at the federal and state level. McDonald v. City of Chicago, Illinois was a major court case that took place in 2010 after the Heller ruling in 2008. In this case, petitioners filed a federal suit against the city of Chicago stating that the city’s handgun possession ban left the citizens defenseless against criminals, and that the ban was unconstitutional. Originally, the Court rejected the petitioners’ argument that the ban was unconstitutional, referring back to the Seventh Circuit’s Heller ruling which refrained from interpreting whether or not the Second Amendment applied to the States; however, this decision was reversed and the case remanded, as four Justices dissented as they found no constitutional protection against state intrusion (McDonald v. Chicago, 2010). This case upheld the Second Amendment of the Constitution and was considered a win for gun rights advocates.
Another very recent case involving the Second Amendment is Voisine v. United States in 2016. Supreme Court, in an attempt “to close a dangerous loophole” in firearms regulations, extended the federal ban of firearms possession by a convicted felon to a person convicted of a misdemeanor under the law: federal, state, and/or tribal (Voisine v. United States, 2016). This ruling by the Supreme Court made gun purchases by citizens with a misdemeanor conviction from firearms licensed gun dealers prohibited; it was also a win for gun control advocates lobbying for tighter, harsher gun control laws. Caetano v. Massachusetts in 2016 is also a case involving the Second Amendment. In this case, Jaime Caetano, a woman convicted for carrying a stun gun for self-defense, had her conviction overturned because the weapon was a form of a lawful weapon possessed at home, thus falling under the protection of the Second Amendment, regardless of the weapon’s relation to military use (Caetano v. Massachusetts, 2016). While this court case was not directly related to firearms, such as handguns, rifles, and shotguns, the arm in question fell under the protection of the Second Amendment.
I stand today as a supporter and advocate of the Second Amendment. I understand that the issue about gun rights and gun control is a sensitive and controversial topic. In light of all of the violence with guns surrounding society today, I reasonably see why people are so afraid about firearms and why people believe that gun control laws should be stricter. From shootings to suicides to gun homicides, people are now living in constant fear that the area where they live or work could be a potential target for a shooting, or people they love could take their own lives with guns bought online. I also understand that guns can’t be stopped completely from being sold illegally.
Gun control and gun rights activists are reasonably fighting for their cause. There is no denying that violence through the use of firearms is incredibly dangerous. Gun control activists do have reasons to pursue stricter gun laws, and gun rights advocates have their reasons why they believe that stricter gun laws infringe on their right to own firearms whether for lawful or recreational purposes. The question is, what gun laws that provide safety for the general public, but also do not violate or infringe upon our Constitution’s Second Amendment can be passed? From history to present times, the federal government has passed critical gun regulations and laws, and upheld convictions and the Second Amendment rights; subsequently leading to differently held beliefs on the two sides of gun rights and gun control.
- Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Assault weapons. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.csgv.org/issues/assault-weapon/
- Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Changing the gun industry. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bradycampaign.org/our-work/changing-the-gun-industry
- Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Key gun violence statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bradycampaign.org/key-gun-violence-statistics
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. National firearms act. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.atf.gov/rules-and-regulations/national-firearms-act
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Gun control act. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.atf.gov/rules-and-regulations/gun-control-act
- Caetano v. Massachusetts, 577 U. S. ___ (2016) (per curiam)
- Dimaggio, C., Avraham, J., Berry, C., Bukur, M., Scd, J. F., Klein, M., . . . Frangos, S. (2018, 09). Changes in US mass shooting deaths associated with the 1994-2004 Federal Assault Weapon Ban [Abstract]. Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, 1. doi:10.1097/ta.0000000000002060
- District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S. 570 (2008)
- Everytown for Gun Safety. Online Gun Sales. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://everytownresearch.org/issue/online-gun-sales/
- Gray, S. (2018, February 22). A timeline of gun control laws in the U.S. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/5169210/us-gun-control-laws-history-timeline/
- Gun Control – ProCon.org. Top pro & con arguments. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://gun-control.procon.org/
Hauser, C. (2017, November 04). Gun death rate rose again in 2016, C.D.C. says. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/04/us/gun-death-rates.html