Gun control in America is an issue frequently spoken about, but rarely actually acted upon. No matter the reason America has lax gun control laws, there is one thing that is certain: people that should not be allowed to own guns do. The result is Columbine, Newtown, gang violence, as well as guns ending up in the hands of children. The problem lies in the conflicting views, very often emotionally charged, on both sides of the issue–naturally leading to a definitive lack of any kind of concessions for a compromise on either side.
The is the very relevant and frequently used “right to bear arms” clause in the Constitution, and more specifically The Bill of Rights, gives private citizens the implicit right to own guns, at least at its face-value. As with any constitutional issue, there are varying different ways the document can be interpreted–nowhere is this illustrated than in the paradoxical issue of gun control.
Conservatives, libertarians, and some Democrats see the Constitution from a broad perspective. They analyze the literal phrasing “the government shall not infringe on the right to bear arms…”, and therefore have a constitutional obligation to hold this to be true. This is a huge controversy frequently used by the NRA, as well as pro-gun lobbyists groups to block gun control legislation in America.
Interestingly enough, these same gun advocates have even more Constitutional ground to stand upon. There is a list of things contained in the Constitution which implicitly names Congress as responsible for–regulation, taxation, and foreign policy are just a few of them. This same document also gives the individual states “police powers” over their particular jurisdiction. Explored further, it is not hard to see why gun control on a federal level has been an overall failure.
There are certain states that, for good reason, favor stricter gun control laws than others. For instance, a mid-West state where hunting is very much a way of life, but gun violence is less so, is naturally going to favor very weak gun control laws. An urbanized city, however, would probably benefit greatly from very strict gun control laws. Because the Constitution gives police powers to the states, and because the demographic of states are very different, it makes it virtually impossible to make any Federal law limiting guns throughout the entire country.
The Civil War was started on a similar principle, though the issue then was slavery. In both cases, however, the states that benefit most from the trade are the states that have stopped needed legislation, very often due to partisan reasons. This is illustrated when considering another piece of legislation, back by conservatives who oppose gun control reform.
The Controlled Substances Act, implemented by Congress, regulates and categories substances it deems legal, legal with a prescription, and illegal without any medicinal value. The act, which actually considers marijuana worse than cocaine by schedule, applies to the entire nation as a whole–yet it criminalizes these substances
under federal law, something that would also be a “police power” reserved for the states under normal circumstances.
The Drug Enforcement Agency, especially when marijuana was legalized for medical usage in California, followed by other states, as well as its recent legalization for recreational use in Colorado, has expounded many resources on enforcing the proverbial “war on drugs”. What makes this Act particularly interesting, however, is its affirmation by the Supreme Court as Constitutional–at the time, a very conservative court, in favor of small government. Congress was able to subvert the intentions of the systems of checks and balances by using another Constitutional provision reserved to the Legislature specifically: the interstate commerce clause.
The Courts affirmed the Constitutionality of the Controlled Substances Act based on the fact that Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce, and the trade of marijuana would inherently become an interstate issue. To rewind briefly, it was stated that ideological and geographical differences have played a very large role in the inability for proper gun control legislation. It is no secret that one can attend a “gun show”, or “gun convention” and purchase a firearm from an individual without any kind of background or identification check. Now if the courts affirmed the CSA on the merit that, at the time, the marijuana trade would “inevitably” spill out of California, though there was no evidence this was occurring. The same principle should be applied to issues of gun control.
It is obvious that the movement of small arms–handguns, or even shotguns and assault rifles–are infinitely easier to purchase, and then subsequently move, than a fictional and hypothetical massive quantity of marijuana would be. The issue here is clear: Congress is picking and choosing when it is appropriate to use the commerce clause to their advantage, generally along partisan lines.
While the idea of state’s rights and the CSA are completely conflicting, they are both considered generally acceptable by the same demographic population. This is where the issue of gun control becomes apparently paradoxical. The ideas of state’s rights and modern Republicanism, especially with regards to the recent “Tea Party” movement, have become virtually synonymous. This population clings to state’s rights; yet support the truly unconstitutional CSA, affirmed by a partisan misappropriation of power, and a gross stretching of the commerce clause in particular. The Supreme Court Justices are supposed to have no partisan ties–however, this is clearly not the case when comparing the CSA and gun control.
At risk of sounding redundant, it is important to keep in mind the issue of states rights against federal responsibility with regards to gun control. Though it seems Congress can stretch and misappropriate its power regulating drugs–clearly a police power–using the commerce clause, even a hypothetical situation in which the commerce clause could not be applied to guns, Congress still has Constitutional ground to stand on when it comes to gun legislation, in the form of another power given to Congress: “the power to make any law necessary and proper…”, better known as the necessary and proper clause.
The Constitution clearly, when outlining the duties of the Legislature, gave that branch the power to create any law it saw as “necessary” for the good of the nation as a whole, regardless of powers expounded elsewhere. In the year 2013, is it not necessary and proper to create legislation that restricts gun sale to an extent? Is it not necessary to properly screen people applying to purchase guns, possibly preventing tragedies such as Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Newtown? Is it not necessary and especially proper to create legislation on a federal level that curbs gang violence, or cartel fueled violence, rather than propagate it? Apparently the interstate marijuana trade is more important than Fox News report the other day. A five year old had come across his Father’s gun collection, and accidentally discharged an assault rifle, killing his friend. However, marijuana is clearly the issue in the chatter beneath the sand.
Of course, it is ridiculous to assume guns can be made illegal altogether. It is true the right to bear arms is written in the Constitution of the United States; however, even the true meaning of the exact wording of the phrase has come under legal scrutiny. For the purposes of deconstructing the entire issue, consider the wording in Thomas Jefferson’s original draft, eventually ratified by the 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.”
It has been said, with a very good point, that this does not at all guarantee American’s the right to own a gun, but rather the right to keep an armed militia in case of national security. This is an interested perspective that, at face value, may seem outlandish. On the other hand, this idea may have a lot of merit indeed. The time period the Constitution was drafted in was much different socially, economically, and politically, and many take this into consideration when interpreting anything originally written by the founding fathers.
Using this idea, and applying it to a high school English class, the text of the Amendment can be interpreted truly in only one way with regards to proper syntax. In modern speech, the text “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,” can literally be translated to “because a well regulated militia is necessary to national security, the right of the militia members have the right to own weapons to fulfill their duties…”. The problem in 2013 is although state militia’s exist, they are no longer the prevalent means by any stretch of the imagination of protecting the United States from foreign attackers. There are many that argue that this amendment, in today’s terms, does nothing but affirm the right of a member of the United States military to “bear arms”.
This is again a major issue with the inability to come to a consensus regarding gun control as a political issue: what did the founding father’s truly mean by the words in the Constitution? Should these words be applied with the times, or should they be taken in the exact context they were written in? Originalism, another Constitutional school of thought that is important in the issue of gun control, deals with just this dilemma–as well as using primary source documents to discern exactly what the authors of the document meant. For example, when the Constitution was ratified, the concept of an assault rifle, or a rifle with the ability to kill from a mile away, and especially not semi-automatic, or automatic pistol was never even conceived, nor could it have been. The primary gun was either a small pistol, or most commonly a single-shot musket. The difference is clear–people do not shoot up schools or public venues with single-shot muskets.
The originalist would look at the Constitution, and truly only allow guns available at the time, or comparable technology. Although this sounds ridiculous, it is actually the most logical way to create any constructive dialogue on gun control in America, especially due to the length of deregulation, as well as the more and more frequent shootings of innocent people by assault rifles that serve no purpose outside of the hands of a trained military professional (though this train of thought has its negatives as well). It is certainly true that this is not exactly the originalist perspective, however, it does seem like a logical starting point for the reform of gun control policies in contemporary America.
It is obviously illogical to think that reverting back to muskets, swords, and primitive pistols–weapons available in the late 18th century–is plausible in any way, any shape, or any form. It is just not possible. However, the future of gun control in America may parallel this idea to a certain, and extremely relevant, degree and idea. It is way too far to go back to muskets, but it is not too far to decide the type of gun that is available for purchase–a compromise that truly addresses most of the issues that go along with gun control.
The NRA, or National Rifle Association, the largest pro-gun lobbyist organization in America, has frequently cited hunting as a reason to deter gun control legislation. This argument has resonated with many Americans who not only see hunting as a sport, but a means for acquiring a cheap and efficient food source. It is true that man has been living off the land for as long as there has been man, and owning a licensed rifle for sport or hunting is an effective distraction by the NRA to promote their views.
In modern America, the gun control issue is not about rifles used for hunting. People do not carry AK-47 assault rifles with extended magazines to go hunting, nor do they line a deer up in the cross-hairs of an easily concealable small arms pistol. So while originalists would prefer the ludicrous idea to revert back to muskets and bows and arrows, they do bring up the relevant point as to the extent the alleged “right to bear arms” can be stretched. A person in most states can purchase a shotgun to hunt or sport shoot with without much of a problem–however, that same shotgun with the barrel and stock sawed off is now a completely different weapon; it has become an easily concealable method of destruction. This is the point–to even begin the debate on gun control, both sides inherently must make concessions that they refuse to make.
The recent ban on assault rifles was shot down due to the funding the Republican Party receives from the NRA–it was filibustered in the Legislature, blocked from passage on strictly economic and personal gains. In turn, the Democrats propose another bill more invasive to be spiteful, or as a supposed “negotiation tactic”, and the cycle begins once more.
Way more than a decade removed from the tragedy at Columbine, which, by the way, the NRA chose for their national convention not one month after the massacre, the same issues of how the perpetrators were able to obtain the weaponry they had are still being discussed–to disgusting inaction. Assault rifles, if anything are probably more readily available, the amount of unregistered handguns cannot even be measured, and the United States is left in the wake of a botched sting operation to curb weapon flow–the result is a disgraced Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms after losing track of the weapons supposed to be used for bait.
There are many cases that prove gun ownership can be good for a society, ignoring all the evidence to the contrary. There are absolutely no laws governing gun ownership in Canada, and yet it has the lowest percentage of gun violence in the world. Granted Canada does not have the population, or population density, as many other places–this is nevertheless a staggering statistic.
There is also the story of Mr. Joe Horn from Texas. Mr. Horn sat on the phone with a 9-1-1 operator for over five minutes, literally watching his neighbor’s house being robbed blind. After the police had not responded, though for an unknown reason there was an unmarked car around the block who did not respond, Mr. Horn announced to the 9-1-1 operator that he was going to stop the burglars, while clicking his shotgun into the phone for the operator to hear. Mr. Horn was acquitted of all charges before a Grand Jury hearing, where he could have spent the rest of his life in jail for murder. He continues to be the head of his neighborhood watch program to this day.
There are both pros and cons when it comes to the complicated issue of gun control, but it truly can be boiled down to a simple concept: this concept is common sense. A hunter has no need for an assault rifle, nor a handgun–Mr. Horn proved a regular shotgun was sufficient for self-defense purposes as well. The only way this issue will be solved is a limit on the types of guns sold, as well as further background checks on gun owners.