Gun Control in the 21st Century Term Paper

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Gun Control

In the 21st century, the legislature should make the ability to bear arms a privilege instead of a right.

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Whether American citizens should have the unfettered right to bear arms and own guns, has been one of the most hotly debated and contentious issues ever since the Second Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights. Opponents of government restrictions on possession of guns are adamant that such laws are a direct infringement on the right to bear arms guaranteed in the Constitution and also contrary to the hunting / sporting ethos imbedded in the gun culture, which is an essential part of the American heritage. Supporters of gun control, on the other hand, firmly believe that proliferation of guns in the country has resulted in a number of serious problems such as gun violence and an exploding crime rate; hence the so-called "right" to bear arms has become an anachronism in the 21st century and requires corrective action by the law-makers. In this essay, I shall trace the origins of the "gun culture" in America; present the history and interpretation of the Second Amendment which supposedly gives the right of bearing arms to the citizens; review both sides of the argument for and against gun control, and present arguments to support making of laws that would make bearing of arms in the 21st century a privilege instead of a right.

Origins of the American "Gun Culture"

TOPIC: Term Paper on Gun Control in the 21st Century, the Assignment

The popular "Gun culture" in the United States has its roots in the hunting / sporting tradition and the militia / frontier ethos of the country's early history. The hunting / sporting tradition comes from the time when the U.S. was an agrarian society in which hunting provided an essential source of food for a number of early settlers and guns were essential deterrents against animal predators. The white settlers on the frontier also needed to defend themselves against the hostile Native Americans and surival, to a large extent, depended on their skills with firearms. In the early days of Independence, the U.S. government did not have the resources to maintain a regular army. Service in malitias was, therefore, mandatory for all young and middle aged, able-bodied white Americans who carried their own private weapons. Today's 'gun culture' in the country is a remnant of such frontier living and a history of citizen 'armies,' although the modern urban living style of an over-whelming American majority is a far-cry from the subsistence style of frontier living and mandatory malitia duty. Subsequent development in the American popular culture such as the ubiquitous Western movies that glorified the gun-toting cowboy-hero has also kept the gun culture alive. As a result, the U.S. has more guns per capita than any other developed country, with a current total of approximately 192 million privately owned firearms in the U.S. - 65 million of which are handguns ("Firearm Facts")

The Second Amendment, its Background and Interpretation

Most opponents of gun control laws, including its influential lobbyist, the Natioanl Rifles Association (NRA) cite the Second Amendement to the U.S. Constitution in support of their contention that bearing of arms is a fundamental right granted by the Constitution to the U.S. citizens. The wordings of the Second Amendment, at least on first reading, do seem to support such a contention, as it says: "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." While presenting their case, the NRA (and other opponents of gun control) concentrate on the second part of the Amendment, i.e., "...the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." But what about the preamble of the Amendment -- the wording regarding "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State"? Surely these words carry as much significance as the latter part of the Amendment? In order to fully understand the meaning of the Second Amendment, let us examine its history and the background in which the founding fathers chose to make it a part of the U.S. Constitution.

Mistrust of Standing Armies and Support for Militias:

There was a deep mistrust of standing armies among the early white settlers in America, most of whom had migrated from Britain. This suspicion had its roots in contemporary British history of the time: for thirteen years in the middle of the 17th century, professional military forces under the control of Oliver Cromwell ruled England during which the civil power was subjected to military dictation. Cromwell's rule was followed by that of King James II, a devout Catholic, who filled the leading ranks of the army with Catholics and threatened to overwhelm the mainly Protestant militias. The events eventually led to his overthrow and replacement by William of Orange in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Thereafter, Parliament enacted the British Bill of Rights in 1689, in which, among other provisions, the nobility, wealthy landowners, and members of the Protestant militia ["executing their duty to defend the country"] were given the right to own and carry arms (Spitzer 20). These provisions of the British Bill of Rights were the actual forerunner of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The mistrust of standing armies continued, and even intensified in America during the revolutionary struggle by the colonists against the British. Several prominent Americans expressed their opinion against regular armies at the time. Samuel Adams, for example, wrote in 1776 that a "standing army, however necessary it may be at sometimes, is always dangerous to the liberties of the people." (Quoted by Spitzer 21) and George Washington, himself, considered regular armies, "mercenary armies" which he thought "have at one time or another subverted the liberties of almost all the Countries they have been raised to defend." As against their deep suspicion of a standing army, the American colonists had an exaggerated opinion about the bravery and effectiveness of a volunteer militia. James Lovell, for instance, wrote in 1771 that "the true strength and safety of every commonwealth or limited monarchy, is the bravery of its freeholders, its militia." (Ibid) the mistrust of standing armies was further compounded by the policies and behavior of the British in the colonized America. Thomas Jefferson complained in the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 that "He [the King] has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies, without the consent of our Legislatures." And the Virginia Declaration of Rights, also written in 1776, expressed a similar sentiment against regular armies by observing: "standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided, as dangerous to liberty." The War of Independence against the British was, therefore, fought on the American side mainly by volunteer militias and, as a result, the citizen-soldier became a symbol of the revolutionary spirit (Ibid.).

Role of Militia in the Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation, drafted and formulated during the Revolution, was America's first Constitution. The document, too, reflected the authors' suspicion of standing armies and a strong central government. The Articles severely restricted the powers of the Congress and gave maximum autonomy to the States. The responsibility of national defense was placed on the State militias instead of a national army and the Congress could not exercise any military powers unless 9 of the 13 States consented. Article VI specifically stated: "every state shall always keep up a well regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutred." Before long, however, the founding fathers realized that the Articles were unworkable for running of an effective government because of the extremely limited powers granted to the central government. The fighting abilities of a volunteer militia as compared to a disciplined, professional army had already been exposed during the Revolution, and even George Washington had expressed his reservations about their effectiveness in private despite his public pronouncements in support of the citizen militia.

The Role of Militia in the U.S. Constitution and Anti-Federalists' Concerns

Hence, by the time of the drafting of the modern U.S. Constitution during Federal Convention of 1787, the Founding Fathers had already realized the necessity of having a national army. Considerable opposition to a strong central government, however, still existed among the States and it was not possible to do away with several State powers such as the maintenance of militias. As a compromise, therefore, the existence of both -- a standing army and militias -- was recognized, with control over the militias being divided between the states and the federal government. Even this notion of a standing army and dual control of the militia by the federal government was ratified by the states and anti-federalists with great reluctance. They were concerned that the power of the federal government over the state militias would eventually lead to the complete undermining of the powers of the states.

This view was most forcefully put forward during the state ratifying convention of Virginia. The Anti-Federalists were particularly concerned that the federal government… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Gun Control in the 21st Century.  (2007, October 31).  Retrieved December 2, 2021, from

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"Gun Control in the 21st Century."  31 October 2007.  Web.  2 December 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Gun Control in the 21st Century."  October 31, 2007.  Accessed December 2, 2021.