Issue in the United States
Ever since the passage of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights there has been an ongoing debate over collective rights versus individual rights and it permeates almost every political topic. The clearest example of this debate can be found when either the Second Amendment or gun control is brought up. The Second Amendment states that “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” (Strasser). This amendment leads to two main arguments, the first being that there is a right for citizens to have ownership of guns and the second is that guns are detrimental to the general populace because they are too dangerous to be left in the hands of individuals. These two arguments are the basis of the individual and collective rights debate on this topic respectively. With this being said, any attempts to repeal the Second Amendment would be virtually impossible to pull off due to the absolute political opposition to this idea (Elving). With the understanding that overturning the Second amendment would be virtually impossible, there is only one issue remaining – whether the ability of citizens to bear arms should be limited and if so, what the restrictions be.
Governmental Solutions to The Problem
From past to present, laws have reflected this debate very well. The first national piece of legislation limiting guns was passed by Congress in 1934 and it was called the National Firearms Act. Created in an attempt to reduce gang crimes such as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the NFA restricted buying short-barrel shotguns, rifles, machine guns, silencers, and mufflers by enacting a $200 tax on anyone who transported, sold, or manufactured those items (Gray), the equivalent of $3800 today after adjusting for inflation. The second law passed related to gun control was the 1938 Federal Firearms Act and it blocked convicted felons from being able to purchase firearms and required firearm sellers to keep records of all customers (Gray).
Perhaps the single largest law involving gun control was passed after multiple assassinations of high-profile individuals such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President John F. Kennedy. This legislation was the Gun Control Act of 1968 and it replaced the NFA while also adding many more parts. It raised the age to purchase handguns to 21, prohibited felons and the mentally ill from buying firearms, required that all guns have a serial number, and banned guns with “no sporting purpose” (Gray). An addition to the GCA was the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 which required background checks for any gun purchase and created the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (Gray).
The last major law that had to do with firearms is a subsection in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The subsection was called the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, commonly called the assault weapons ban and it had a sunset provision that ended it in 2004. It banned certain ammunition magazines that could hold more than ten bullets and outlawed semiautomatic assault weapons (Gray).
Congress has not been the only branch that has limited access to firearms, there have also been a few major Supreme Court cases dealing with gun laws. The first case the Supreme Court ever had to deal with on this topic was in 1939 and they had to determine whether the National Firearms Act was constitutional. The case was United States v. Miller and the final decision concluded that weapons that are not part of ordinary military equipment or that do not contribute to the common defense can be regulated or banned (Scarinci). Most recently, through the case District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the “Second Amendment is not unlimited” and thus firearms can be limited or banned. However, in its Heller decision, the Court also reaffirmed that there is a right to own guns (Tirschwell).
In recent years, talk of more gun laws occurs heavily around either a high-profile suicide or a mass shooting, however no real legislation has been passed. Most of the talk involves closing what is called the “gun show loophole”, expanding background checks, and adding a mandated waiting period. Someone is considered to buy a gun through the gun show loophole when they buy a gun from someone who doesn’t sell guns as their “principle motive” to make profit. Due to buying from someone like this, the buyer does not have to pass or even go through a background check (Shuster). There is currently no federally mandated waiting period for those who want to buy a gun, so once the background check is completed or after three business days pass the gun can be given to the buyer (Waiting Periods).
My solution to the problem of gun control would consist of three parts. The first is to completely ban bump stocks and high capacity magazines which can hold more than 15 bullets. The second part is to regulate gun sales to any violent criminal, whether a convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, stalkers, the mentally ill, anyone who has been diagnosed with depression or bi-polar disorder, and anyone who is on a no-fly list or terrorist watch list. The third part is to implement universal background checks and waiting periods of no less than seven days or when the background check is completed, whichever finishes last. The waiting periods and background checks would be expanded to include any purchase of firearms, even if the seller’s “principle motive” is not making a profit. The only exception to this part of the law would be if the seller has sold no more than three guns within the past year. There are a few main reasons as to why this is the best piece of legislation involving gun control, those reasons being reducing suicides, mass shootings, and homicides.
Currently suicides constitute two-thirds of all gun deaths with 21,000 per year. Further, almost half of all suicides involve guns. This means that through the expanded background checks, it is easier to find those who are likely to harm themselves. Moreover, due to the fact that suicide tends to be a very impulsive act with people often deciding to harm themselves in less than 24 hours, the waiting periods provide a good amount of time to change their mind. Supporting this, research by the American Journal of Public Health showed that waiting periods resulted in 51% fewer suicides by guns and a 27% lower suicide rate overall (Waiting Periods).
The second reason supporting this specific piece of legislation is that mass shootings would be reduced. Researchers have said that no laws can eliminated mass shootings completely due to the unpredictability of them, but the likelihood of them occurring can be lowered. Banning bump stocks, which was a primary reason why the 2017 Las Vegas shooter was able to shoot so many bullets, and reducing magazine sizes would make mass shootings much more difficult to accomplish and would certainly reduce the death count of any that would still occur (Sanger-Katz). Furthermore, restricting access to those on terrorist watch lists could make terrorist attacks with firearms much more difficult, if not impossible to accomplish through legal means.
The third main reason why this legislation would be effective is a reduction in what could be considered “normal” firearm-related homicides. Studies have found that, in the states that currently require them, waiting periods reduce gun homicides by approximately 17%, or 750 deaths per year. An additional 910 deaths per year could be avoided if implemented nationally (Waiting Periods). Also helping to reduce homicides is restricting access to guns for stalkers and all violent criminals, even if they were misdemeanor offenses. This prevents guns from getting in the hands of domestic abusers who may have snapped and stalkers who would rather kill the person they are obsessed with rather than watch them be with someone else.
It is for these three main reasons that the aforementioned legislation is the most comprehensive and would be the most effective in helping the general populace by keeping guns out of the hands of those who should not have any.
- Elving, Ron. “Repeal The Second Amendment? That’s Not So Simple. Here’s What It Would Take.” NPR, NPR, 1 Mar. 2018, www.npr.org/2018/03/01/589397317/repeal-the-second-amendment-thats-not-so-simple-here-s-what-it-would-take.
- Gray, Sarah. “A Timeline of Gun Control Laws in The U.S.” Time, Time, 22 Feb. 2018, time.com/5169210/us-gun-control-laws-history-timeline/.
- Sanger-Katz, Margot, and Quoctrung Bui. “How to Reduce Mass Shooting Deaths? Experts Rank Gun Laws.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Oct. 2017, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/10/05/upshot/how-to-reduce-mass-shooting-deaths-experts-say-these-gun-laws-could-help.html.
- Scarinci, Donald. “United States v. Miller: Which Side of the Gun Debate Does It Support?” Constitutional Law Reporter, Scarinci Hollenbeck, 22 Oct. 2016, constitutionallawreporter.com/2013/01/24/united-states-v-miller-which-side-of-the-gun-debate-does-it-support/.
- Schuster, Kathleen. “8 Facts about Gun Control in the US.” DW.com, Deutsche Welle, 11 Aug. 2018, www.dw.com/en/8-facts-about-gun-control-in-the-us/a-40816418.
- Strasser, Ryan. “Second Amendment.” LII / Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, 5 June 2017, www.law.cornell.edu/wex/second_amendment.
- Tirschwell, Eric, and Mark Frassetto. “10 Years after Heller: Fiery Gun Rights Rhetoric, but Courts Back Second Amendment Limits.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 26 June 2018, www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/06/25/heller-ruling-courts-uphold-gun-control-second-amendment-limits-column/729202002/.
- “Waiting Periods.” Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, lawcenter.giffords.org/gun-laws/policy-areas/gun-sales/waiting-periods/.
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