As American citizens, we have more rights and freedoms than any other group of people in the world. The founders of this country established these freedoms because they had previously lived in countries where the people did not have as many rights. One of these rights is stated in the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which proclaims “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” But over the years various laws and regulations have infringed upon this right. The reasons for these laws are to get guns that cause crime and injuries off the streets. But most of these laws have only prevented the common citizen from acquiring a firearm. There should be some regulation with regard to who can own a gun, but we need to ensure that this regulation is done in a fair and practical manner.
The best argument for the protection of the right to possess arms is the Second Amendment. The purpose of the amendment, and the entire Constitution, is to establish certain rights that cannot be abolished or changed by our government. But the wording of the amendment has been a source of debate. The main argument is that the amendment only provides for a militia and that the “right to keep and bear arms” is referring to militia members only. But the amendment also states that it is the right of “the people” to keep and bear arms. But is “the people” referring to only the militia or to all citizens in general? In 1990 that question was answered in the Supreme Court case the U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez (Cramer 171). This case was about a man who had committed a crime while in Mexico. The man argued that his constitutional rights had been violated. But the court ruled that since he was outside the United States when the crime was committed, he was not protected. During the case, the question of what the “right of the people” meant in the Constitution (Cramer 171).
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The court decided that “’ the people’ protected by the Fourth Amendment, and by the First and Second Amendments, and to whom rights and powers are reserved in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, refers to a class of persons who are part of a national community… (Cramer 172).” This decision clearly shows that the right to keep and bear arms is not exclusive to the militia, but applies to all United States citizens. Another argument is that the Second Amendment does not prohibit national and state governments from passing laws that regulate or even ban the selling of certain guns. But the amendment states that that the right to keep guns “shall not be infringed.” This would imply that any action that would eliminate guns or that would restrict ownership to a very small section of the population would be unconstitutional. But there are numerous states (California, Maryland, New York, Connecticut…) that have banned certain types of guns, including “assault weapons” and handguns.
These types of laws do not just limit who can purchase a firearm, but they make it illegal for all citizens to own guns. Under the amendment, this is a violation of the Constitution. Although there is a heated argument over the Constitution, most all citizens will agree that there should be some sort of restrictions on who should be able to purchase or carry a firearm. Gun laws vary from state to state, but there is a set of federal statutes that apply to all of the states. The most important of these statutes is the outline of what classes of people are prohibited from possessing firearms. They include convicted felons, fugitives from justice, unlawful users of certain drugs, persons committed to mental institutions, illegal aliens, persons less than eighteen years old, and persons convicted of any domestic violence (NRA–ILA Homepage). Even strict anti-gun control proponents realize that these types of people should not own guns.
They also agree with most of the other federal statutes with regard to who is able to buy, sell, and use firearms. Where there is dispute is over both the Omnibus Crime Bill and the Brady Bill. The Omnibus bill bans so-called “assault weapons”, and the Brady Bill imposes a mandatory five-day waiting period on the sale of handguns (NRA–ILA Homepage). These types of laws do not restrict firearm ownership to law-abiding citizens but make it hard or even impossible for these citizens to access certain types of weapons. And as we discussed before, any restriction on the right for citizens to possess firearms is unconstitutional. In addition to the federal statutes, each state has its own regulations with regard to firearms. These range from states with almost no regulation, such as Wyoming, Alaska, and New Hampshire, to states like California and Connecticut that have very restrictive measures.
As with any other issue, the individual state has the right to pass its own laws. But some of these restrictions are not simply restrictions; they are all out bans on firearms. In Washington, D.C., for example, it is illegal to sell handguns and semi-automatic weapons, including shotguns and rifles (Cramer 119). If a city is allowed to directly violate the Second Amendment by banning guns, what other amendments can be legally violated? Will the next step be to restrict the press, or oppress certain religions? Obviously, this will probably not happen, but you can see the impact that a local interpretation of the Constitution could have. The idea behind these laws is that by imposing more gun restrictions, we will be able to reduce the amount of crime in this country. The most common form of gun control is the imposition of bans or waiting periods. But what gun control proponents do not realize is that these bans and waiting periods do not deter who they were designed for– the criminal.
This is because people who use their guns in crimes do not go to licensed gun dealers to purchase their guns. A 1991 survey of a sample of inmates of juvenile correctional facilities and inner-city high school students found that a large majority of them got their guns from friends, family, or from other criminals (Conklin 338). Another survey of prison inmates found that four-fifths of them felt that they could get a firearm after their release from prison. In addition, these criminals stated that if handguns were not available, they would turn to other types of guns instead (Conklin 343). Although this research does not prove that guns are uncontrollable, it does show that criminals can get guns whenever and wherever they want. The laws will only impede everyone else from acquiring firearms. Gun control advocates often point out that using a gun for self-defense is not a good argument for owning a gun. They feel that self-defense does not occur often enough to warrant owning guns for that person.
This may seem to be a reasonable argument until you look at the facts. A 1993 nationwide survey showed that citizens use firearms in self-defense against crime 2.1 to 2.5 million times each year, and they use handguns in 1.5 to 1.9 million of those cases (Conklin 339). In comparison, firearms are used in approximately 238,000 robberies and 14,000 murders each year (Conklin 73,80,335,338). This would mean that people use guns in self-defense almost ten times more than guns are used in crimes. Since criminals can get guns no matter what bans or restrictions are in effect, the only number such regulations will affect would be the number of self-defense cases. As we have seen, guns are used in a large number of crimes. But how can we reduce the number of guns used in committing a crime, while at the same time keeping intact the rights of the common citizen? One of the ways to do this would be to require everyone who wishes to purchase a gun to take and pass a gun safety course.
Many states that allow concealed weapons require this type of test before issuing permits. This would be a one-time test and would involve a background check of the potential gun buyer. The buyer would then receive a card similar to a driver’s license that they would present to the gun dealer before being able to purchase a firearm. Under such a system there would be no waiting periods and no bans on certain types of guns. A type of gun control that would work is an aggressive policing program. Under such a program, the police would search for guns on anyone stopped for minor infractions. Such a program would seek to deter the illegal transfer of firearms on our streets. Still another program would be to impose harsher penalties for felons who use firearms in the course of their crime.
Most people agree that gun control is a good thing. Guns are dangerous and should be kept out of the hands of the wrong people. But the Second Amendment provides a clear statement on what the government’s position with regard to gun control should be. But the regulations now are starting to conflict with the amendment. This would be acceptable if a crime has been drastically reduced. But that is not the case. The only effect gun control laws have is to punish the common citizen. There should be restrictions as to who can purchase a firearm, not what types of firearms one can purchase. This would ensure that criminals are left out, but the people that are legally able can have no restriction on their rights.