The History and Current State of Gun Control

According to the “Gun Violence Archive”, there were 418 mass shootings in 2019. Only 5 years ago in 2014, there were 269 mass shootings (“Past Summary Ledgers”). This uptick in gun violence is an objective indicator that there is a problem with gun violence in the United States worth solving. Gun violence in America has always been a hot topic, but in recent years it has come to a head with many mass shootings garnering attention by the media. This has shed some light on recent legislation concerning gun control but has also brought up the legislation that has been passed in the decades following the ratification of the Second Amendment, the “right to bear arms,” in the Bill of Rights in 1791 (Gray).

In 1934, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed the first piece of national gun control legislation called the National Firearms Act (Gray). This was the beginning of a long line of legislation brought about to curtail gun violence, however, none have achieved its goal of ending gun violence or even making a dent in saying who may own a gun and what type of gun. Many years and interpretations later, President Lyndon B. Johnson created the Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968 in response to the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Attorney General and U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Gray).

Although many had already died at the opposite end of a gun, it took the assassinations of important government leaders to create any sort of change. The GCA was able to raise the age requirement to purchase a handgun to 21 and also prevented the mentally ill and felons from purchasing a gun. This was a big step in the way of changing gun control because it prevented those who were too young or dangerous to society from being able to purchase a gun to use on unsuspecting people (Gray).

Many years later, twenty-five to be exact, in 1993, Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act to honor press secretary James Brady who saved President Ronald Reagan from an assassination attempt in 1981 (“Gun Control”). “Within the first three years of the passage of the Brady Act, the FBI reported significant declines in homicides, robberies, and aggravated assaults involving guns. By 2013, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reported that the law had prevented over two million firearms sales to ineligible individuals.” (“Gun Control”). The Brady Act was an act that deterred many who clearly should not own a gun, but it still wasn’t enough to control Americans.

Moving ahead only a year later in 1994, Congress passed a ban on assault weapons, which was an unseen move shown by the government up until that point (Keneally). Although this ban did help in limiting which assault weapons were on the market, it wasn’t strong enough to avoid the never-ending loopholes found in bills produced by the government which included keeping it legal to make upgrades to unspecified assault weapons. It also wasn’t supported enough to be continued as it expired in 2004 when the bill lapsed and was not passed by Congress (Keneally). The last piece of legislation that changed gun control was the Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller, which stated that Americans would be able to own assembled handguns in one’s household without having to register them (“District of Columbia”). This vote set a new precedent for gun control and has been upheld ever since.

With guns affecting so many lives, political leaders have made attempts to curb the violence through legislation, with arguably mixed results. The current state of gun control is a controversial and highly disputed place. There are many with differing opinions on how to control gun violence, with some on the opposite ends of the spectrum either saying to ban guns or to let people have what they want without rules and regulations. In addition, there are some in the middle who only wish to impose some regulations on guns without completely taking away American’s Second Amendment right to own a gun.

The divide among Americans concerning gun control can seem to the normal person that there is no consensus on what to do, but that is not the case. In a 2017 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, it was found that “52% of Americans say gun laws should be stricter than they are today” (Parker). This means that the majority of Americans want laws to be stronger and more limiting on who is able to purchase and own a gun in the United States. The issue of gun control and gun violence is not only about sides, but it is also about life or death, and about the lives of the innocent who are shot down because someone who should not have been able to access a gun was able to get away with one.

The government, particularly Congress, has the majority of the say in what legislation is passed or even talked about in relation to gun control. It has become apparent in recent years that the opinion of gun control varies based on the party of the one giving the opinion. Those who are Republican-leaning tend to be for gun rights and those who are Democrat-leaning tend to be for gun control. A stark example of this would be between Democratic Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Congresswoman Pelosi has been consistent with her opinion that gun control is an important issue that needs to be addressed (“Gun Violence Prevention”).

On the other hand, Senator McConnell has always held the opinion that gun rights are more important than gun control. Further examples of the party divide in opinion of gun control come in the wake of the mass shootings in 2016 when the Senate, whose Majority Leader at the time was Mitch McConnell and was controlled by Republicans, voted down four proposals that would have tightened gun control and expanded background checks (Siddiqui). The lack of support for gun control from the Senate further shows that there are some who despite hearing what the public wants, will still do what is important to them and what will get them re-elected.

Gun violence has affected every person in the United States in one form or another, whether it be personal or just empathizing with those seen on the news. The history of gun control shows the evidence of a lack of legislation and the missteps taken by the government. In this way, the government has failed its people, but it is not too late. The current state of gun control is in a shaky place, and with the slightest push, could be knocked over and forgotten. Those who have died in mass shootings will not have died in vain, for their death will one day hopefully create a world without gun violence, and a world where 36,000 Americans are not killed every year (“Gun Violence Statistics”).

Gun violence is a problem that needs to be solved and put to rest quickly because America agrees that controlling who can own a gun and what type of gun is important and should be addressed by the government. Without action by the people to spur those in government, nothing will ever change, and the history of gun control will continue on the same as it has been for the last century.