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US Gun Control Laws

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Gun politics has long been among the most controversial issues in American politics.[1] For the last several decades, the debate regarding both the restriction and availability of firearms within the United States has been characterized by a stalemate between a right to bear arms enshrined in the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution against the responsibility of government to prevent crime.[2][3]
 
Gun culture
In his article, "America as a Gun Culture," historian Richard Hofstadter popularized the phrase "gun culture" to describe the long-held affections for firearms within U.S., many citizens embracing and celebrating the association of guns and America's heritage.[4] The right to own a gun and defend oneself is considered by some, especially those in the West and South,[5] as a central tenet of the American identity. This stems in part from the nation's frontier history, where guns were integral to westward expansion, enabling settlers to guard themselves from Native Americans, animals and foreign armies, frontier citizens often assuming responsibility for self-protection. The importance of guns also derives from the role of hunting in American culture, which remains popular as a sport in the country today.[6]
 
The viewpoint that firearms were an integral part of the settling of the United States has the lowest level of support in urban and industrialized regions,[6] where a cultural tradition of conflating violence and associating gun ownership with the "redneck" stereotype has played a part in promoting the support of gun regulation.[7]
 
In 1995, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, whose employees routinely carry such weapons in the line of duty, estimated that the number of firearms available in the US was 223 million.[8] In 2005, almost 18% of U.S. households possessed handguns, compared to almost 3% of households in Canada that possessed handguns.[9] In 2011, the number was increased to 34% of adults in the United States who personally owned a gun; 46% of adult men, and 23% of adult women. In 2011, 47% of the adult U.S. population lived in households with guns.[10][11] Guns are prominent in contemporary U.S. popular culture as well, appearing frequently in movies, television, music, books, and magazines.[12]

  Origins

The origins of American controversy over ownership and carrying of arms can be traced back to the American Revolutionary War, hunting/sporting ethos and the militia/frontier ethos that draw from the country's early history,[3] and even further to the rights of freemen under the English Common Law and long-standing rights of the citizens of a Republic as described as far back as Plato and Aristotle.[13]
 
Plato, speaking as Socrates in The Republic, "provided a comprehensive analysis of the social and political consequences of individual ownership of arms versus a state monopoly of arms. ... individual possession of weapons by sane individuals was eithically acceptable to Socrates."[13] Aristotle's concept of polity included a large middle class in which each citizen fulfillied all three functions of self-legislation, arms bearing, and working."[13] Aristotle criticized the monopolization of arms bearing by a single class in the "Best State" writings of Hippodamus, arguing it would lead to oppression of the "farmers" and the "workers" by the arms-bearing class.[13]
 
Early English monarchs required that subjects be armed for the defense of the realm. Later kings, especially those best known "for arbitrary absolutism sought to deprive the lower economic classes, various religious groups, and colonized peoples of weapons so as to perpetuate and enhance the economic and political power of the dominant classes."[13] Common law construction came to establish the right of freeman to be armed, both before and after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and were further enshrined in the 1689 Bill of Rights, as well as through long-standing judicial construction. Despite Parliamentary legislation that routinely attempted to disarm the Irish and Scots throughout the eighteenth century, many Americans believed they were guaranteed the common-law right to keep and carry arms.[13]
 
Americans who participated in the American Revolution were strongly influenced by the philosophical classics from Greece to Rome to Renaissance writers, and were vigorous in asserting the importance of their common-law rights to both keep and bear arms for individual self-defense, as well as "to combine into independent militias for defense against the official colonial standing army and militias."[13]
Polls
Gallup reported in January 2013 strong support for gun control measures proposed by President Barack Obama:
  • "Given the chance to vote "for" or "against" each of nine key proposals included in President Barack Obama's plan to reduce gun violence, Americans back all nine."
  • "Americans are most likely to be in favor of requiring background checks for all gun sales (91%), increasing funding for mental health programs aimed at youth (82%), increasing funding for programs to train law enforcement and schools in responding to active armed attacks (79%), and increasing criminal penalties for people who buy guns for others -- so-called straw purchasers (75%)."
  • "The two least-broadly supported proposals, but ones majorities of Americans still favor, are reinstating and strengthening the 1994-2004 ban on assault weapons (60%), and limiting the sale of ammunition magazines to those with 10 rounds or less (54%)."
  • "The three other specific policies tested in the new poll that garner somewhat lower -- although still majority support -- are federal funding for 15,000 street police officers (70%), federal funding for helping schools develop emergency response plans (69%), and banning the possession of armor-piercing bullets by civilians (67%)."[59]
A survey conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in January 2013 found that:
  • 74% of NRA members support requiring a background check system for all gun sales.[60]
  • NRA members broadly oppose new restrictions on gun ownership.[61][62][63][64]
A poll conducted by the NRA of 1000 of its members between January 13 and January 14 2013 found:[65]
  • 90.7% of members favor "Reforming our mental health laws to help keep firearms out of the hands of people with mental illness." A strong majority of 86.4% of members believe that strengthening laws concerning mental health records to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining firearms would be more effective at preventing mass murders than banning semi-automatic rifles.
  • 92% of NRA members oppose gun confiscation via mandatory buy-back laws.
  • 89% oppose banning semi-automatic firearms, often mistakenly called "assault rifles."
  • 93% oppose a law requiring gun owners to register with the federal government.
  • 92% oppose a federal law banning the sale of firearms between private citizens.
  • 82.3% of members are in favor of a program that would place armed security professionals in every school.

 Centers for Disease Control Gun Research and Gun Control

In 1996, Congress added language to the relevant appropriations bill which required "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control."[66] This language was added to prevent the funding of research by the CDC that gun rights supporters considered politically motivated and intended to bring about further gun control legislation. In particular, the NRA and other gun rights proponents objected to work supported by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, then run by Mark Rosenberg, including research authored by Arthur Kellermann.[67][68][69]
The language has been carried forward and appears in the fiscal year 2012 appropriations bill,[70] and also in the draft for the fiscal year 2013 appropriations bill.[71][72] However, the Obama administration's legal analysis, "concludes such research is not prohibited by any appropriations language."[57][73]

  Regional and partisan divides

 
Alaska, Arizona, Vermont, and Wyoming do not require any license in order to carry concealed weapons in public places; Montana does not require a permit to carry concealed weapons in unincorporated rural areas. However, there are laws in these states prohibiting concealed weapons in certain places (e.g., in Alaska it is not permitted to carry a weapon, concealed or otherwise, into a bar or tavern).[75] The spread of concealed carry laws since 1986 in those states that tend to be in support of gun rights has led to the widespread, legally permitted, carrying of concealed handguns by civilians in many parts of the United States. Opinions on gun control can vary within a jurisdiction. In general, large urban jurisdictions tend to favor gun control to reduce crime, while rural populations and small towns oppose it for much the same reason.
 
Political arguments
Political arguments of gun politics in the United States center on disagreements that range from the practical – does gun ownership cause or prevent crime? – to the constitutional – how should the Second Amendment be interpreted? – to the ethical – what should the balance be between an individual's right of self-defense through gun ownership and the People's interest in maintaining public safety? Political arguments about gun rights fall under two basic questions:
  1. Does the government have the authority to regulate guns?
  2. If it does, is it effective public policy to regulate guns?[42]
The first category, collectively known as rights-based arguments, consist of Second Amendment arguments, state constitution arguments, right of self-defense arguments, and security against tyranny and invasion arguments. Public policy arguments, the second category of arguments, revolve around the importance of a militia, the reduction of gun violence and firearm deaths, and also can include arguments regarding security against foreign invasions.

 Courts and the law

  Supreme Court decisions

Since the late 19th century, with three key cases from the pre-incorporation era, the Supreme Court consistently ruled that the Second Amendment (and the Bill of Rights) restricts only the federal Congress, and not the States, in the regulation of guns.[96] Scholars predicted that the Court's incorporation of other rights suggests that they may incorporate the Second, should a suitable case come before them.[97]
"Americans also have a right to defend their homes, and we need not challenge that. Nor does anyone seriously question that the Constitution protects the right of hunters to own and keep sporting guns for hunting game any more than anyone would challenge the right to own and keep fishing rods and other equipment for fishing – or to own automobiles. To "keep and bear arms" for hunting today is essentially a recreational activity and not an imperative of survival, as it was 200 years ago. "Saturday night specials" and machine guns are not recreational weapons and surely are as much in need of regulation as motor vehicles." — Ex-Chief Justice Warren Burger, 1990.[98]
Until recently, there had been only one modern Supreme Court case that dealt directly with the Second Amendment, United States v. Miller.[99] In that case, the Supreme Court did not address the incorporation issue, but the case instead hinged on whether a sawed-off shotgun "has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia."[97] In quashing the indictment against Miller, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas stated that the National Firearms Act of 1934, "offend[ed] the inhibition of the Second Amendment to the Constitution." The federal government then appealed directly to the US Supreme Court. On appeal the federal government did not object to Miller's release since he had died by then, seeking only to have the trial judge's ruling on the unconstitutionality of the federal law overturned. Under these circumstances, neither Miller nor his attorney appeared before the US Supreme Court to argue the case. The Court only heard argument from the federal prosecutor. In its ruling, the Supreme Court overturned the trial court and upheld the law.[100]
 
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