Term Paper: Right to Bear Arms Gun Control

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¶ … Right to Bear Arms

Gun control became an issue for Americans in the 1960s when President Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, all with guns. People began to demand that the government do something to stop the spread of guns and murder (Ruhl, Rizer, & Wier, 2003/2004). Since then, although a large segment of the population is in favor of more laws to regulate gun ownership, gun control is a hotly debated topic and more emotional than any other constitutional issue. After 9/11, for example, the sale of guns rose dramatically, as though people thought they could protect themselves against terrorism (an airplane flying into a building or disease germs planted in the water) by owning a gun (Kaminer, 2002). Currently, the number of guns in the United States is between 192 and 200 million (Ruhl, Rizer, & Wier, 2003/2004), and the country seems to be polarized on the issue.

Obviously, many people feel safer if they have a gun in the house or car "just in case" and would be extremely upset if the government tried to take away their "protection." On the other hand, whenever a highly publicized crime occurs -- the Columbine massacre, for example -- gun control advocates make new calls for better gun regulation. In this essay, I will argue that the right to bear arms is a protected right under the constitution and should not be taken away. Having said that, however, I will also argue that the government has a duty to see that guns do not fall into the hands of people who would use guns in an irresponsible manner -- such as convicted felons, mentally ill people, illegal aliens, and people under restraining orders for domestic violence. It is possible to preserve the right to bear arms while at the same time minimizing the danger of uncontrolled access to guns. I will discuss the history of how people have seen guns in relation to citizenship, the creation of the Second Amendment, and recent regulations that have been passed in regard to gun ownership. I will show that some gun legislation has been not only useless but also actually silly. I will argue the social problems that underlie homicide rates need to be addressed if we want to reduce the incidence of murder. Finally, some gun regulations do make sense.

Guns and Citizenship

In the history of the world, democracy first occurred in ancient Athens around 330 years B.C. Aristotle wrote at that time about the characteristics of citizenship as determined by the constitution. By the word constitution he did not mean a written outline of rights and responsibilities, which could be amended, as we use the word today. He meant "a society's fundamental ethical understanding" about who qualifies as a full citizen with "a right to have rights" (Stell, 2001). Stell argues, "For Aristotle, you can tell who the citizens are by the rights they bear -- the right to participate in political affairs, to hold public offices of trust, to own land, and to possess arms. Taken together, these rights constitute full citizenship" (p. 29). It follows, then, that if any of these rights are taken away, citizenship is diminished. The right to keep a gun was one of the rights that constituted citizenship, and losing that right would mean one was no longer a full citizen. Kaminer (2002) argues that just because some people abuse their right to bear arms is no reason to deprive everyone of the right to keep a gun. To extend Aristotle's argument, it would mean depriving everyone of full citizenship.

Gun Control

In the United States, the federal government took its first interest in controlling weapons during the 1920s and 30s when organized crime and gangsters came onto the scene. Prior to that, states did their own regulating. The government responded to gangsters like Al Capone by passing the National Firearms Act of 1934. It didn't actually ban machine guns or certain types of shotguns and rifles (deemed attractive to criminals) but placed a prohibitive tax of $200 and a registration requirement on them upon transfer to a new owner. Along with the tax money, the owner of a "Class III weapon" was required to fill out an application and submit it with a photograph and fingerprints. This was the first time the government passed comprehensive legislation to control guns.

The violence of the civil rights movement and subsequent assassinations during the 1960s caused people to demand that the government pass new legislation, the Gun Control Act of 1968. This act made it illegal to possess a stolen gun or to use fake identification when buying a gun. It outlawed convicted felons from owning a firearm as well as anyone dishonorably discharged from the military, mentally incompetent, illegally in the United States, or having renounced American citizenship. The new law made it illegal to change the serial number on a gun or to ship a gun without telling the post office what it was. It banned importing foreign surplus military weapons, which were flooding the market during the 1950s and 60s. They were comparable in quality to American-made but only about 1/10th the price (because of this, the American gun industry supported the Act). Gun dealers were required to keep records, and the government was authorized to inspect a gun dealer's business place. A prison term of five years, a fine of $5,000, or both, was the consequence of violation.

During the same era, organized groups for gun control emerged. Handgun Control Inc. was the first. Mark Borinsky founded the group after he was robbed at gunpoint in 1974. Outraged, he went to Washington, D.C. To join a gun control lobby and discovered that none existed. So he formed the organization. Later, John Hinkley, a would-be assassin, shot President Reagan. President Reagan recovered, but his bodyguard Jim Brady took a bullet in his brain that left him with permanent and serious disabilities. His wife Sarah Brady took over the group, which was later re-named the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Another influential group is the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence comprised of forty-four religious, labor, medical, educational, and civic groups. Originally, it was called the National Coalition to Ban Handguns, founded by the Society of the Methodist Church and the Board of Church. The group's presence federally is small, but makes a strong anti-gun lobby at the state level. A splinter group of the Coalition is the Violence Policy Center that does research.

Naturally, these groups do not exist unopposed. In 1975 the National Rifle Association expanded its traditional activities (marksmanship training and hunter education) and formed the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA), which keeps abreast of legislative action related to guns and organizes political activities. In 1990 the NRA created the NRA Foundation to "support...a wide range of firearm-related public interest activities of the National Rifle Association of America and other organizations that defend and foster the Second Amendment rights of all law-abiding Americans" (cited in Ruhl, Rizer, & Wier, 2003/2004, p. 19).

Inevitably, the two sides clashed and what happened was disgraceful. In 1981 NBC did a story about "cop-killer" bullets. Actually, the bullets were developed for the use of law enforcement officers and never intended to kill cops. They were designed to improve penetration and coated with Teflon. Unfortunately, however, testing proved them to be inappropriate for police use. Not only did they penetrate cars, but they also blasted all the way though the other side of the car, ricocheted around and caused havoc. They had already been discontinued when the NBC reported on them as "cop-killers." Immediately, the forces for gun control denounced them, and the NRA denounced a ban on them or any ammunition. Eventually the legislature passed a bill in 1986 that banned manufacturing or importing certain kinds of handgun bullets. You could say that the legislation addressed a problem that never existed.

The same year that law was passed, a new controversy arose about plastic pistols. A series of newspaper columns appeared about a new Austrian pistol -- the Glock 17 -- in which it was claimed that the gun was made entirely of plastic and could evade metal detectors. An unnamed government official was supposed to have smuggled one through airport security, and Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi was supposed to have arranged to purchase 100 of them. None of it was true. Metal detectors can easily spot Glock 17s. It has a plastic frame, but the barrel, slide and rail are steel -- 19 ounces of steel, in fact, and it is just as detectable as any other pistol. The Glock Corporation reported that it never intended ship any pistols to Qaddafi, and it never has. However, the myth grew. Other reporters said technology to produce plastic pistols was less than a year away and such guns could be taken aboard airplanes in a carry-on. This triggered legislation. In 1987 Senator Howard Metzenbaum introduced a bill to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Right to Bear Arms Gun Control.  (2007, April 4).  Retrieved November 22, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/right-bear-arms-gun-control-became/98623

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"Right to Bear Arms Gun Control."  Essaytown.com.  April 4, 2007.  Accessed November 22, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/right-bear-arms-gun-control-became/98623.