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What is it about Gun Control?

Updated on July 16, 2013

Emotional Rhetoric In Pictures

The State of Gun Control in America.

In the United States of America, the issue of gun control is the center of a wide ranging, and ongoing, debate. It causes intense emotions on both sides, including the author of this hub. Given the complexities of the issue, and the passions it evokes, it is essential that people on all sides attempt to remain open minded. For myself, I believe that an answer to gun control can only truly be found when all of the facts are presented. I hope to provide an informative, and, most essentially, an accurate presentation of the facts.

First, I will give a brief overview of the history of gun control in America, from the earliest English colonies, on up to the events during and after the tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut. I will then give an overview of the Second Amendment itself, and the views and debate about its meaning. Then, I will review current federal gun laws and will present President Obama's recent proposals on gun control, including a link to the plan itself. Finally, I will state where I stand on the issue.

Along the way, I will provide pictures, graphs, charts, links to other articles and, at the bottom of this hub, a poll. I hope to teach readers of this hub something new about the gun control debate. Along the way, I hope to learn a thing or two about it myself.

And more emotional rhetoric...
And more emotional rhetoric...
Salem, Massachusetts, 1637. The colonies adopted the militia system used in England, which obligated all males of fighting age to military duty.
Salem, Massachusetts, 1637. The colonies adopted the militia system used in England, which obligated all males of fighting age to military duty.
William Church.
William Church.
George Wingate.
George Wingate.
The Black Panther Party launched the modern gun rights movement, in an ironic twist of history. Inspired by the teaching of Malcom X, the Black Panthers advocated gun rights as a means of self defense...
The Black Panther Party launched the modern gun rights movement, in an ironic twist of history. Inspired by the teaching of Malcom X, the Black Panthers advocated gun rights as a means of self defense...
Clinton signs the Automatic Weapons Ban of 1994-2004.
Clinton signs the Automatic Weapons Ban of 1994-2004.

A brief history of American Gun Control

Gun Control: From Jamestown to Newtown

The conditions faced by the settlers at Jamestown necessitated some form of personal defense. It is likely that any settler at Jamestown who could afford a musket had one with him, and if he didn't, some form of weaponry was provided. Later, in 1684, Virginia's colonial government required all free Virginians to “provide and furnish themselves with a sword, musquet and other furniture fitt for a soldier… two pounds of powder, and eight pounds of shott….”

The New England colonies also required possession of firearms. In Massachusetts, every person was to be “furnished with good & sufficient armes.” In fact, every colony in New England tried its very hardest to ensure that the population was armed. Poverty was no excuse to go without a musket; those who could not afford to pay for one were required to trade produce such as corn for a musket with their local militia, which would then sell the traded produce to make up for the cost.

But guns and gun ownership were regulated even then. In one case, the city of Boston made it a felony to shoot a gun in the city limits, after many accidents involving guns resulted in much death and destruction of property. It was also illegal for anyone other than a free white male to own a gun. Sales to Indians or Indian tribes were usually prohibited by colonial governments. It was also illegal to sell a gun to a slave or freedman.

Gun ownership grew during the 1700's, particularly as a result of the French and Indian War. Later, the British insisted that the colonies buy their gunpowder from Britain, and then taxed it, as they did for many other products. This taxation was among many of the grievances that led the colonies to revolt in 1775.

The Founding Fathers also insisted on gun ownership, even as they advocated regulation of guns. In many states, citizens were still required to own guns, and males of a certain age were still encouraged to join local militias. Even so, the cities of Boston, New York, Albany and Philadelphia, among others, set aside public storage for guns and ammunition or required owners to register their guns. In the years after the War of 1812, several states passed laws restricting concealed weapons.

During Reconstruction, a new stage of the gun control debate began. As white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan began forcibly and often violently confiscating firearms from blacks, Northerners, such as Representative John Bingham of Ohio, began working to add an amendment to the constitution which could protect the rights of all Americans, including the right to bear arms. The eventual result was the 14th Amendment.

The NRA was founded in 1871 by George Wingate and William Church, as a response to what they considered to be a problem of poor marksmanship in the Union Army. The organization initially supported gun control legislation. In 1934 the NRA endorsed the first major federal gun control legislation, the National Firearms Act of 1934. The NRA continued supporting such legislation, as long as it did not intrude upon Americans right to responsibly own a firearm.

During the 1960's, the Black Panther Party essentially launched the modern gun rights movement. In the 1970's, Harlon Carter, the new executive president, began transforming the NRA into the organization that it is today. In 1994, Congress passed a ten year long ban on assault weapons. Riddled with loopholes and inanities, the law was only partially effective, and when it expired in 2004, Congress failed to renew it.

Most recently, of course, have been the events of the last few years, during which a shocking slew of gun massacres have been on the increase, even as overall gun violence and crime have fallen to their lowest levels in years. These events have triggered a fierce and bitter divide over gun control. Until recently, gun rights advocates have had the advantage. After the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it remains to be seen just where the debate will lead in the future.

About the Second Amendment

"A Well Regulated Militia" or "Shall Not be Infringed?"

The Second Amendment is possibly the most frustrating and divisive part of the constitution. Frustrating because it is so vaguely worded, and divisive because everyone who reads it seems sure that it clearly supports their own position on gun control. Below is the Second Amendment in full:

"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 two sides of the gun debate rarely seem to pay attention to the Amendment in its entirety. Gun rights advocates often seem to see only the second half of the sentence. They commonly choose to focus mainly on the words shall not be infringed. For their part, the gun control advocates focus on the first part of the sentence, emphasizing A well regulated militia. Let us look at what I see as the merits and drawbacks of these positions.

Gun rights advocates claim that the Second Amendment protects an individuals right to own a gun, which seems to be backed up by the amendments mention of the right of the people. The amendment also states that this right shall not be infringed, which leaves little room for argument. However, at the time these words were written, no one had ever heard of an AK-47. Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion for the case District of Columbia v. Heller, and who is one of the staunchest proponents of "originalism," seemed to backtrack on this view of the constitution, presumably because it created the following barrier: If the constitution is grounded in the Founding Fathers original intent, then assault weapons would not be protected.

Gun control advocates claim that the Second Amendment protects Americans collective right to bear arms; that is, to form a militia. They focus on the words A well regulated militia.The implication is that the Second Amendment was meant to apply only to organized groups of well armed citizens, and that those groups were to be well regulated. But does this interpretation allow individuals the freedom to hunt, or to defend their homes, family and property?

When taken as a whole, the Second Amendment seems to be vague and elusive on purpose. No one can quite agree on what it actually means, and one half of the sentence seems to contradict the other half.

President Obama's Plan

Gun Control?

Currently, the United States federal government has the weakest gun control laws of any developed, industrialized nation in the world. And although gun violence and crime rates have been falling since the 1990's, the United States still has the highest homicide rate of any country in the developed world. No other developed country even comes close to America's homicide rate. Since handguns are used in the vast majority of homicides, it seems reasonable to conclude that there is a relationship between the two.

Current gun laws call for the registration of certain guns and imposes a tax on the manufacture of those guns. Gun laws also regulate interstate commerce in firearms. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act requires a background check on people buying guns. However, there is a loophole that allows private sales of firearms to be conducted without background checks.

Current gun laws do not seem to have been a particularly influential factor in falling crime rates. On the other hand, they are also weakened by loopholes like the loophole in the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. In the end, it seems to me that there is a fairly decent chance for criminals, or the mentally unstable, to gain access to guns.

In response to the Sandy Hook tragedy, President Obama has proposed a plan to curtail gun violence in future. In his plan, he proposes both legislative and executive actions to prevent gun violence. His executive actions include;

  • Issuing a presidential memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
  • Improving incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
  • Issuing a presidential memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.

Obama's legislative proposals include;

  • Requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales, including those by private sellers that currently are exempt.
  • Limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.
  • Confirming President Obama's nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

In order to see the full plan, there are two links at the bottom of the hub.

Conclusion

My Postion

In writing this hub, I was reminded constantly about all of the many angles and complexities of the gun control debate. My own position on gun control remains unchanged; I can see the need and desire for self protection. There is no justifiable reason to deny people the right to own a gun, and what they do with their gun is their business. But allowing gun control laws to remain as they are is irresponsible, especially in light of the string of tragedies recently suffered; Virginia Tech, Tuscon Arizona, Aurora Colorado, the Sikh Temple Shooting and Sandy Hook Elementary School.

As Gabriel Giffords put it, "We must do something."

Is it time for better gun regulation?

See results

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    • e-five profile image

      e-five 4 years ago from Chicago, Illinois, USA

      Great overview. Voted up, and useful. I think another aspect of this issue is the effect of gun manufacturers and their lobby on this debate. They obviously have a financial interest in the proliferation of expensive and particularly lethal guns, large magazines, and easy access to it all.

      The other day I was watching an old Western movie on TV, and in the film the Sheriff asked newcomers to town to check their weapons with the Sheriff's office until they left town. I thought to myself that gun control was often more strict in the Wild West than in is in 21st Century urban America.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 4 years ago from Southern California

      Nathan

      We should enforce the laws we already have, before we add any more of them.

      The focus on guns, and gun deaths needs to be more detailed than totals.

      Many people kill themselves, suicide.

      Mass slayings are the lowest number s.

      Criminals kill intentionally.

      Gangs use weapons to protect their illegal businesses, which include selling illegal drugs to children, using children for prostitution, and human trafficking.

    • Nathan Orf profile image
      Author

      Nathan Orf 4 years ago from Virginia

      Thanks for stopping by e-five. Yes, I agree that lobbying in Congress on behalf of gun manufacturers have led to the gun debate being broken down. I think how they use certain terms is important; instead of "gun regulation," they use "gun control." Is that an example of an honest outlook, or a deliberate play on words?

      Good point about about gun regulation being stricter in the Wild West than it often is today. I would never have thought to add that!

    • Nathan Orf profile image
      Author

      Nathan Orf 4 years ago from Virginia

      Hey ib.

      Agreed. But what do we do about loopholes that allow people to buy weapons without background checks (mostly private sales, as I understand it)? Enforcing the laws we have would work better without such loopholes.

      Can't argue with you about the need to make gun deaths more than just statistics. Unfortunately, both sides do this...

      True, guns are the preferred means of suicide. I don't think any legislation can ever be successful in preventing them.

      Again, true. However, there is a catch; In the last few years, the rate of mass slayings has increased, even as overall crime rates continue to fall. Gun violence overall is still a problem that, for the purposes of this hub, should be addressed. We still need to confront mass shootings, and try to find some way to make committing one harder.

      Criminals do kill. Guns just make that a little bit easier for the common thug.

      The final bit, about illegal drugs, anyway, reminds of Prohibition. What can I say? The ban on certain kinds of drugs is perhaps among the stupidest federal policies ever enforced. In fact, the ban on drugs probably helps cause gun violence and crime, more than it prevents them. Child prostitution and human trafficking are problems in their own right.

    • Alberic O profile image

      Alberic O 4 years ago from Any Clime, Any Place

      Private sales depending on the states, don't require checks. Only dealers who sell guns (FFL) are required to conducts background checks. As a gun owner, I truly believe in changing this law.

      The law should require private citizens to run background checks on the buyer and/or sell the gun through an FFL dealer. I sold my rifle through an FFL dealer and despite having to pay a small commissioning fee after the rifle was purchase, I was satisfied because I didn't sell a weapon to a dude who has a violent history (since the the dealer did a background check).

      The majority of crime committed are committed by repeated offenders. Get rid of them and you solve more than half the problem right there.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 4 years ago from Southern California

      Nathan

      You missed my points.

      Trying to protect against random acts of violence like mass slayings is not any different than trying to stop suicides.

      With the gangs you have a defined, known group of criminals that use their weapons to protect their business. If we go after the criminals we are going after a known rather than an unknown. And when we take down a gang criminal we take their weapons, their business, and that protects children and people from getting them.

      In addition, many gun owners that are mentally unstable to keep their guns are known by the government, but they don't have the budget to track them down and get their guns.

      All of this gun control is nonsense and the results are speculative. It is a bandaid on the real problem. And crime is going up as cities are economically going bust and cutting police service.

      Google San Bernardino, Ca to see an example.

      And we should look to better training for the police. An example of the problem was when the LAPD shot fifty rounds at a vehicle they thought was that of Dorner. They hit a 71 year old woman and the other rounds hit the truck and other cars and houses in the neighborhood.

      They were blindly shooting at a vehicle without even identifying their target. All the officers in that shooting should be put back into a training course until they can pass it.

      First thing in combat training, which is what the police are there for is to identify the target as good, or bad. The second thing is to hit the target and not innocents.

      These police officers failed on both counts, but they are getting off because they thought it was Dorner. They are supposed to be trained professionals.

      What is your point of gun control and how is it directly better than going after the known people that intentionally use their existing guns to kill people?

    • pagesvoice profile image

      Dennis L. Page 4 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

      Thank you for writing a comprehensive article about the emotional debate surrounding gun control. I am so tired of the same old arguments about how to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, that we all need to be armed, the government is going to take away all of our guns, etc. We are flooded with all types of weaponry. When does the insanity end? What's next? Should everyone start being armed with rocket launchers? I bet there are those who would endorse that idea without batting an eye.

      Yes, something does need to be done because it is so obvious things are way out of control. What I find puzzling is how our moral fiber seems to have taken a nose dive. In discussing guns with a member of my peer group (the 60 and older crowd) we remembered how almost every boy we knew owned a rifle. NEVER did anyone even entertain the idea of hurting another individual with their gun. So, what happened to change the landscape? I have no clue, except that the best way to start getting a handle on things is to enforce universal background checks on all potential gun owners.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 4 years ago from Southern California

      pagesvoice

      What happened was that today there are over 33,000 gangs with over 1.4 million gang members that are involved in a multi-billion dollar business. These use their weapons to protect their business which consists of illegal products and services. This includes selling illegal drugs to children, using children fro prostitution and human trafficking.

      The gun control issue has the same fate as when there was a prohibition on alcohol. Then it was the Mafia, but today there are more mutlinational gangs that will step up their business to supply guns to people and criminals that want it.

      Gun control is a red herring that distracts us from the real problem, criminals.

    • lmpounds profile image

      Lauren 4 years ago from St. Louis

      Very informative. Nice work Nathan!

    • profile image

      Vickiw 4 years ago

      This is a horrible problem. Right now it doesn't seem there is an answer to it, as the two sides are very entrenched in their views. Maybe only the guns that were in use at the time of the forefathers should be allowed! Or maybe the regulations, such as they were, need to be updated.

    • Nathan Orf profile image
      Author

      Nathan Orf 4 years ago from Virginia

      Vickiw,

      Ah, but can't it be argued that AK-47's are the muskets of modern times, as many on the gun-rights side say? In that case, I agree; regulations on certain guns need to be updated. Thanks for commenting!

    • profile image

      Vickiw 4 years ago

      I have not heard that argument. Were muskets capable of continuous firing? People's bodies have not developed the capability of not being wounded or killed by one single bullet. That hasn't changed. So why do we need these military style weapons? Just asking . . .

    • Nathan Orf profile image
      Author

      Nathan Orf 4 years ago from Virginia

      Vickiw,

      I hear that line being presented every now and then by the occasional NRA supporter, and the argument seems to be that, in the standards of the time, muskets would have been like assault rifles today. They're making the point that gun technology has changed to fit the times we live in now, so in their reasoning, comparing assault rifles to muskets makes sense in the context of the time periods.

      But I agree with your take on this issue. Military style weapons seem too dangerous to entrust to certain individuals among the general public. Adam Lanza being a case in point. Thanks again for commenting!

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