America’s colonial past, along with its revolutionary footprint and frontier expansionist past serve as the foundation of its gun ownership lifestyle ("Background of the Issue”). It is reported that there are as many as 88.8 firearms per 100 individuals in the population. That calculates into approximately 270,000,000 guns per capita, the largest distribution of gun ownership within any single country worldwide. Almost one quarter of the U. S. population own one or more guns. In addition to our history, our Constitution vigorously supports the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment to the U. S. Constitution states: “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” ("Bill of Rights").
The wording and meaning of the Second Amendment has been the subject of debate for years (Cornell and DeDino). Those who seek more stringent gun control, or the banning of private ownership of guns, argue that the legislative intent of the constitutional amendment was directed at militias, not the right of individuals to bear arms. They posit that placing meaningful restrictions on the right of private citizens to own guns would serve to reduce gun violence. Proponents indicate that gun constraints are nothing new in the historical timeline of American evolution, and that most Americans, gun owners or not, welcome gun restraints (Cornell and DeDino). Those who oppose gun strictures contend that the Second Amendment squarely safeguards a person’s right to own guns. They maintain that guns aid individuals to protect themselves from perpetrators, including felons and terrorists. Opponents assert that when people have the right to own a gun, crime is deterred because prospective criminals have to think twice about what might transpire (Cornell and DeDino).
Almost all of American colonist owned guns. Firearms were used to obtain food and to protect the family from danger (Allen). During Revolutionary times, arms became weapons in the American Revolutionary War. In fact, some of the colonies required the head of household to own and carry guns and register for the militia. Even Connecticut in 1643, as was true for some other colonies, established a requirement that an adult male, at a minimum carry a firearm to church and other meeting places to prevent attacks from Native Americans ("Background of the Issue”). Keeping your gun with you would serve to prevent firearms from being stolen from unattended homes. In South Carolina, in 1743, the law required gun ownership to protect Whites from uprisings on the part of slaves and free Blacks. Immigrants were also required to own guns to come into America or to own land ("Background of the Issue”). The right to bear arms was formalized in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution was ratified on Dec. 15, 1791.
Gun restrictions were in place, too (Spitzer). Native Americans were not allowed to buy guns (despite the fact that it did occur). Indentured servants, mostly Irish at the time, and slaves were banned from gun ownership, as well as lawyers, millers, school masters and doctors. The 1792 federal Militia Act called for men who were qualified to enroll in the militia, to possess a gun and keep sufficient ammunition in readiness for service in the military, to register their guns, and to have their guns inspected by the proper authorities on a regular basis ("Background of the Issue”). Many colonists kept pistols or hunting rifles, rather than the firearms required for military service (Allen). Fines for failure to keep the right gun were pretty hefty, but were inconsistently levied ("Background of the Issue”).
Blacks were restricted from owning guns when they were slaves, after the abolishment of slavery when they were free, and once Jim Crow laws were instituted (Spitzer). The only people allowed to own guns were Whites. For example, a Georgia law (1833) stated:
it shall not be lawful for any free person of colour in this state, to own, use, or carry fire arms of any description whatever… that the free person of colour, so detected in owning, using, or carrying fire arms, shall receive upon his bare back, thirty-nine lashes, and that the fire arm so found in the possession of said free person of colour, shall be exposed for public sale ("Background of the Issue”).
The American West established numerous gun restrictions for visitors (Spitzer). Some towns required guests to leave their firearms with the sheriff prior to entering ("Background of the Issue”). In an area in Dakota, there was a law that said that you needed mayoral consent to fire a gun. In a part of Kansas a sign dictated that gun possession was strictly prohibited.
The National Firearms Act (NFA) was enacted in response to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre on Feb. 14, 1929 in Chicago (Krieg). Machine guns were used in the killing of numerous gangsters affiliated with Bugs Moran, archenemy of Al Capone. The NFA was set in motion to ban the use of machine guns (Allen). The act placed a hefty tax and registration requirement on making and transferring specific types of guns, like machine guns, short-barreled rifles, shotguns, silencers, more difficult. Felons were precluded from buying guns by the Federal Firearms Act of 1938 (FFA). Those in the business of selling firearms had to maintain proper records of who were buying the guns (Krieg). The FFA was later overturned by the 1968 Gun Control Act ("Background of the Issue”).
The Gun Control Act of 1968, which prescribed interstate gun transfer, was signed into to law by President Johnson, on the heels of the untimely assassinations of President Kennedy, Malcolm X, King, Kennedy’s brother Robert, and the mass school shooting at the University of Texas ("Background of the Issue”). The Firearm Owners' Protection Act of 1986, updated earlier legislation by reducing restrictions in favor of pro gun advocates. In 1993, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, also known as the Brady Act, was enacted requiring a 5 day waiting period in states that did not have a background check system in place. Licensed seller had to wait before giving a gun to a person without a license. Background checks are now instant, yet can take a few extra days if inconsistent information is found. Owners with a firearms license are excluded from the requirement ("Background of the Issue”). In 1994, The Federal Assault Weapons Ban, a component of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, was enacted outlawing nineteen types of semi-automatic assault weapons by name, by feature and by capacity (Steiner). The ban expired ten years later.
The 2000 have seen some gun control measures enacted, as well. In 2005, President G. W. Bush signed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and Child Safety Lock Act of 2005, which gave protections to gun manufacturers against law suits by victims’ families (“NRA-backed Federal Limits”). In 2005, the Child Safety Lock Act required that handguns be sold with child protection storage devices. In 2007, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Improvement Amendments Act (NICS), incentivizes states to provide NICS with information on those who are not allowed to buy firearms, helping the Attorney General to secure more details about the parties, such as if they have mental illnesses ("The NICS Improvement”).
Recently, President Obama issued a set of executive actions in the face of repeated congressional inaction ("FACT SHEET: New Executive Action”). These orders related to closing loopholes associated with background checks, increasing the number of ATF agents, increasing funding for mental health programs, infusing money and bolstering the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network - which associates crimes committed in one area with firearm evidence located in another, establishing the Internet Investigations Center to monitor illegal gun distribution online, a Department of Health and Human Services rule permitting mental health information to be shared with background check systems, gun theft reporting, funding for gun safety research, and training for law enforcement officers to reduce accidents in domestic violence matters ("FACT SHEET: New Executive Action”).
The Supreme Court has consistently opined on behalf of the collective rights view of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, up to 2008 (Temple-Raston). The collective rights view holds that the right to bear arms is for states to keep a militia. As a result, states could form militias and could regulate firearms. In 2008, for the first time in hundreds of years, the Court held in support of an individual’s right to bear arms despite militia service in DC v. Heller. The court said:
There seems to us no doubt, on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms. Of course the right was not unlimited… Thus we do not read the Second Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation, just as we do not read the First Amendment to protect the right of citizens to speak for any purpose ("Background of the Issue”). Two years later, the Supreme Court extended those federal rights to the states in McDonald v. Chicago.
The Second Amendment does not provide an unfettered freedom for an individual to own a gun. Gun control laws have a historical legacy in American history and the prevention of gun ownership and restriction of gun ownership is not an unfamiliar idea. In a world where individuals obtain guns and engage in mass murders, like was the case at Pulse, in Orlando, Florida, severe restrictions on private gun ownership would likely have prevented the deaths of over 50 innocent people (Park).
The sound of the tap, tap, tap of Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, as he texted his mother, Mina Justice, his last words before he was executed by Omar Mateen, demands our collective heartbreak. He said, “Mommy, I love you” as he cried out for any hope of solace that only a mother can give (Park). If there is anything that begs the banning of the private ownership of guns more than Eddie’s death, it would be imagining Eddie’s life in the moments when he heard Mateen’s footsteps as he entered Eddie’s hiding place, aiming the gun at him, as he begged for his life.
It would be really nice to say that we could prevent the loss of life if private ownership of guns were banned. Sadly murders would continue. But if guns were not accessible and so easy to obtain, we would have fewer Eddies to break our hearts.
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