Term Paper: Sensible Gun Control Laws an Analysis

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¶ … Sensible Gun Control Laws

An Analysis of the Need for More Sensible Gun Control Laws in the United States Today

Introduction common assertion heard among gun control opponents in the United States has been, "They will take my gun from me when they can pry it from my cold, dead fingers." This unwavering position has largely been based on the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which prevents infringement of the people's right to bear arms; however, things in America have changed in fundamental ways since this amendment was penned in the 18th century, and gun control advocates suggest that the time has long since passed when more sensible gun control legislation should be enacted in the United States. Citing examples from more reasonable gun control laws abroad, these advocates also point out that the constitutional arguments in support of gun ownership in America are spurious at best, and an archaic anachronism at worst that is no longer relevant in an era of international terrorism and increasingly sophisticated automatic assault weapons. To this end, this paper provides an overview of the Second Amendment and gun control in the U.S., followed by arguments in support of more sensible gun control legislation. An assessment of current and future trends is followed by a summary of the research in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Background and Overview. The Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution reads: "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 Second Amendment, though, only grants people the right to keep and bear arms within the framework of a formal militia. "Moreover, the Amendment does not apply to private militias but only to the militia organized by Congress -- that is, to the National Guard. This seems to give the Amendment very little bite" (Bogus 2001:485). The Academics for the Second Amendment (ASA) is a national organization comprised of law professors, political scientists, philosophers, and historians who support the individual right to keep and bear arms. According to this organization, in the 18th century, the term "militia" actually referred not to a formal military organization but rather to a system of universal military service in which each male citizen of military age was required to possess a firearm for defense against foreign invasion, tyranny, and criminal activity (Cutter 2000).

It is also important to point out that when the Second Amendment was enacted, the militia represented the state's exclusive instrument of armed force. "Police forces did not exist until the early nineteenth century" (Bogus 486). The ASA also notes that after the Civil War debates in Congress regarding the nature of citizenship affirmed the need to protect the individual right of African-Americans in the South to keep and bear arms for self-defense. Today, ASA argues that the individual right to keep and bear arms guaranteed in the Second Amendment is not absolute, just like the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and assembly. "Unlike some other gun rights organizations, ASA believes reasonable people may have genuine differences of opinion regarding the application of the right of gun ownership, thus leaving the door open for "sensible gun laws" that are constitutional" (Cutter 2). The rationale and supporting arguments for more sensible gun laws are discussed further below.

Rationale and Supporting Arguments. According to Lance K. Stell (2001), gun control has always had two vectors: 1) a common sense, regulatory interest inherent in the rule of law, specifically, to keep guns away from the untrustworthy and incompetent; and 2) an outdated but still-live controversy in political philosophy, namely, whether "an explication of full and equal citizenship must include a serious individual right to possess arms" (28). This "serious individual right to bear arms" has been countered by a number of arguments in support of more restrictive gun control legislation in the United States, including the following rationale:

1. The United States is the only modern democracy that does not impose strict gun controls;

2. The United States has historically experienced a much higher crime rate than those democracies that impose strict gun controls; and, 3. Adopting stricter gun controls like other democracies would therefore lower the American crime rate (Kopel 1992).

To date, almost every proponent for more sensible gun laws in the U.S. has adopted this reasoning. For instance, Sarah Brady, chairperson of Handgun Control, Inc., argues: "We are the only civilized nation in the world without a good gun law and we are the most violent in the West." Likewise, American presidents who want gun control, attorneys general, congressmen, academics, medical researchers, and newspaper and magazine writers all have suggested that adopting more sensible gun control laws would dramatically lower the American crime rate (Kopel 1992). When more stringent gun laws are upheld in American courts, the judges frequently justify their holdings based on this rationale as well.

Similarly, anti-gun lobbies have also argued that more sensible gun control laws would work in the United States, as so do the police lobbies that have joined forces with the gun-control movement. The International Association of Chiefs of Police, in conjunction with the Fraternal Order of Police and Handgun Control, Inc., promises: "Gun laws can, do, and will work, contrary to the claims of the National Rifle Association. Other democratic nations clearly prove that." They reassure skeptical gun owners: "The rights of hunters and sportsmen are well preserved in those nations as well" (Kopel 14).

Other advocates of more sensible gun control laws have dismissed assertions that the Second Amendment refers to a "collective right"; for example, Levinson notes that "[s]uch an argument founders... upon examination of the text of the federal Bill of Rights itself and the usage there of the term 'the people' in the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments" (638).

Another scholar compares the right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to that of the people to choose members of Congress (Worthen 1998): "The significance of guaranteeing the right to keep and bear arms to 'the people' becomes clear when one reads the Second Amendment in context with the entire document" (146). Others have arrived at similar conclusions for different reasons. For example, LaFollette (recognizes that he would bear a heavy burden of justification were there a citizenship-based "serious right to bear arms" since serious moral rights ordinarily outweigh arguments that are based on utilitarian or majoritarian foundations. LaFollette suggests that if there were in fact a serious citizenship-based right to bear arms, it would have to be based in the fundamental interests of persons, rather than the U.S. Constitution, because the issue is one of morality; in other words, gun control is concerned with what the Constitution ought to be, not what it is (13). This gun control advocate maintains that there is no serious, citizenship-based right to bear arms; LaFollete claims: "guns are mere means to independent citizenship. They are not constitutive of that citizenship" (7).

Current and Future Trends. The United States has historically experienced higher levels of violence than its counterparts in the rest of the developed nations of the world; for example, in 1988, Americans committed 8.4 homicides per 100,000 people (Spitzer 1998). The nearest competitors to these rates were Sweden at 7.2, Canada at 5.5, Germany at 4.2, France at 3.9, Great Britain at 2, and Japan at 1.2. A Center for Disease Control (CDC) study of worldwide gun deaths in 1994 determined that, among the 36 most affluent nations of the world, the United States had by far the highest rate of gun deaths (combining homicide, suicide, and accident), amounting to 14.24 per 100,000 people. Of the 88,649 gun deaths reported by these countries, almost half (45%) occurred in the United States. By sharp comparison, England and Wales only reported 0.41 gun deaths per 100,000 in 1994, and Japan's rate was a meager 0.05 (Spitzer 1998). Bailey points out that, "With one or more gun in the home the risk of suicide increased nearly five times and the risk of homicide increased more than three times (777); further, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control reported that in 1999, there were 16,599 gun suicides compare to 10,828 firearm homicides.

Furthermore, besides having the most lenient, but complex, firearms laws in the industrialized world, the United States has also been unique in the level and duration of controversy over its gun policy (Vizzard 1995). Because the total number of firearms now in private hands is known only very approximately (within about 20 million weapons), it is reasonable to assume that knowledge concerning the trends in these numbers is even less reliable; however, there has been a consensus among all observers that the total amount of private weaponry has increased in recent years, but estimates of the magnitude of the increase are, for the same reasons, as variable as estimates of the total numbers (Daly, Rossi & Wright 1983). Undoubtedly, guns are associated with increased incidences… [END OF PREVIEW]

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