Gun Legislation Essay, Research Paper
Gun Legislation: A History
Few topics in American history have been more disputed or the controversy more heated than Gun legislation. The history of Gun Legislation dates back to the Revolutionary period. In 1792 Congress passed a law that required “all able-bodied male citizens between the ages of 18-44″ to equip themselves with a musket, or a weapon adequate for war, along with a minimum amount of ammunition. The Congress passed this law on the reasoning that in case of a need for national defense the male citizens should arm themselves because the federal government may not necessarily be able to arm its citizens with the necessary weapons to arm the militias. In reaction to the new law gun ownership began to rise exponentially and therefore new problems associated with guns were raised with it. Soon after the South was defeated in the Civil War, talk of how to control the amount of guns began. The reason for the new focus on the issue stemmed from concerns the North had that another insurrection would arise in the South. In response to the gun control actions of the day involving the North s apparent plans to disarm southern citizens Civil War veterans founded the National Rational Association in 1871. Shortly after in 1876, the Supreme Court case the United States v Cruikshank (Ref. 2) the Supreme Court ruled that the 2nd amendment does not grant U.S. citizens the right to bear arms, but rather only restricts the power of the federal government. Ten years later in 1886 in the Supreme Court extended it ruling in the case of Pressner v. Illinois, “by virtue of the 14th amendment”, to include the powers of the states. (Ref. 2)
The Sullivan law of 1911 was passed in New York State. The law required the citizens of New York to purchase a permit before purchasing a firearm. The law s original intention was to stifle immigrants and foreigners from obtaining firearms because they were seen as threats. This law was the first of its kind and set the precedent for future gun legislation. The 1920s brought with it alcohol prohibition and, as an effect of the prohibition, criminal organizations increased and heavy weaponry such as machine-guns and sawed off shotguns became the criminal organizations weapon of choice. In 1934 after the prohibition had been overturned, Congress passed legislation to ban the sale and possession of machine-guns and sawed off shotguns. This marked another precedent in gun legislation; the law was the first of its kind to limit the type of firearms the average citizen could purchase and possess. In 1939 in the Supreme Court case United States v. Miller (ref. 2) the 1934 law was challenged. A man was caught carrying a sawed off shotgun across state lines. He appealed the conviction stating his constitutional 2nd amendment rights. The Supreme Court reaffirmed its former 1876 and 1886 ruling that the 2nd amendment does not grant him to carry his sawed off shotgun, but it also defined the term militia as “primarily citizens”. This official definition of the term militia was important because it defined that a militia as stated in the constitution to consist of citizens and not a federal military.
Almost thirty years later the controversy of gun control began to heat once again during the civil rights movement. In 1968 the Congress passed the Gun Control Act. The new law focused on the transportation and possession of “cheap or junk guns” like the thirty-eight caliber Saturday night special. The Gun Control Act of 1968 came about in the wake of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. This law was initially looked on and challenged as racist, because it seemingly kept lower economic classes from being able to own a firearm. The new law also established the gun ownership age requirements, prohibits interstate sales of firearms and ammunition, prohibits the sale of firearms and ammunition by mail, and prohibits the importation of foreign military surplus weapons. This law at it s creation and still today is the primary gun control law on the books. In 1981 President Ronald Reagan was almost assassinated by John Hinckley. This triggered a renewed attention to handguns and their necessity to the average citizen. In 1983 another case was brought to the Supreme Court concerning a Morton Grove, Illinois ordinance that banned all handguns with in the town s limits. The Supreme Court upheld the towns right for the ban. After the ban the issue became inflamed form both sides of the controversy. Gun owners feared that similar bans would spread through out the country. In 1986 amendments were added to the Gun Control Act of 1968 to ease tensions among gun owners. The amendments basically tightened the requirements needed to prove gun violations and strengthened the standards for reasonable search. The amendments also introduced licensing of firearms and prohibits violate felons to own firearms of any sort. (Ref. 8) This tactic worked and attention to the issue faded. In 1993 the Brady Bill, named after James Brady who was injured in the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, was passed. The Bill required a five-day waiting period and a background check on gun sales. In 1994, Congress passed a law that added semi-automatic and fully automatic weapons to the list of firearms that are illegal to sale possess and transport. In our brief history there have been few issues that have been more controversial for this length of time.
Current Gun Legislation Issues
The current legislation pending in Congress has shifted in a somewhat different direction. The recent past events of the late nineties raised many new questions, and had prompted congress to take a different angle in dealing with guns. Although many of the core firearm issues are still being disputed, many people are starting to formulate new solutions to the issues. The 106th Congress has proposed new legislation that attempts to allow law-abiding citizens to bear and use firearms lawfully while at the same time are continuing to draft legislation that will attempt to minimize the misuse and abuse of firearms.
The first bill introduced into Congress pertaining to gun legislation was the Criminal Defense Act. The act gives people who lawfully obtain a firearm the right to use it for the defense of their selves and their families if they feel their safety, or the safety of their families, is reasonably perceived as threat. The act also grants the right for citizens to defend their homes to a person committing a felony against their home. This piece of legislation was a landmark decision that revived policy that the United States hadn t held since the late 1800s. The decision will not only give the right to law abiding citizens to defend their property, says the National Rifle Association, but will also dissuade criminals from committing crimes against people and their property.
Another issue that has surfaced in recent years is the issue of gun safety locks. The rise in child gun violence, for example the occurrence of the sixth grade student opening fire on his classmates at school or the in the instance of Columbine, has brought to the attention of the nation the need to create some way of keeping guns not only out of the hands of criminals but also children. Gunlocks are a possible deterrent by blocking access to the trigger, thus rendering the firearm useless. Gunlocks would also cause a delay the use of gun by an owner acting without thought. They are also seen as a measure on the pro gun side of legislation to further punish lawful gun owners.
Some of the legislation is focused on older issues such as banning new types of guns and ammunition not in existence when the original laws were written. Amour piercing ammunition called “cop killers” is a major issue in today s gun control debate. The invention of these types of bullets exponentially increased the risk policemen are exposed to, and therefore makes their job more dangerous and encourages officers not to be as effective as should be on the job. The standard police body amour was no longer enough to protect police officers in gun battles and criminals armed with the amour piercing become more brazen. Also due to the advent of this type of ammunition, according to a national poll done by the anti-handgun lobby, police officers are less willing to take the higher risk to stop these over armed assailants.
Still another issue is basically to enforce the laws that are currently already on the books. The argument by the Republican party, National Rifle Association, and other various pro gun groups state, that Congress focuses too much on writing new laws rather than simply finding more effective ways to enforce more the current legislation on the books. It is stated that if the current laws were to be enforced then there would be no need for new extensive legislation. The National Rifle Association states that the issue isn t totally that current laws are not being enforced, but that if the current laws could be more effectively enforced then need for new legislation wouldn t be as necessary.(Ref 5) The laws that are most often referred to is the laws that refer to type and availability of firearms to citizens. The basis for the argument is the success current law on the books have had. According to results of study ran by the Federal Bureau of Investigation law that were implemented strongly, such as the Brady Bill, drastically reduced the amount of hand guns sold unlawfully and reduced violate crime across the country, but mainly in major urban population. (Ref 9)
The Judiciary Committee
The judiciary committee in either the House of Representative or the Senate is where gun legislation is referred to. Once a bill has made it the judiciary committee it is then referred to a sub-committee. The sub-committee that the bill is to be referred is usually Crime in the House of Representative or the Oversight Committee on Crime in the Senate, although in rare instances other sub-committees are assigned a bill pertaining to gun legislation. The judiciary committee s sub-committee on crime currently consist of the these congressmen in the House of Representatives: Mr. Steve Chabot(R-OH), Robert C. Scott (D-VA), Mr. Bob Barr(R- GA), Mr. Marty Meehan (D-MA), Mr. Gekas(D-PA), Mr. Steve Rothman(D-NJ), Mr. Howard Coble(R-NC), Mr. Anthony D. Weiner(D-NY), Mr. Lamar Smith(R-TX), Ms. Sheila Jackson Lee(D-TX), Mr. Mark Canady(R-FL), and Mr. Asa Hutchinson(R-AK). (Ref 4) The committee that primarily deals with gun legislation in the Senate is also the judicial committee. The member ship of the Senate judiciary committee is as follows: Republicans: Orrin Hatch(UT) Chairman, Strom Thurmond(SC), Chuck Grassley(IA), Arlen Specter(PA), Jon Kyl(AZ), Mike DeWine(OH), John Ashcroft(MO), Spencer Abraham(MI), Jeff Sessions (AL), Bob Smith(NH), Democrats: Patrick Leahy,(VT) Ranking Member, Edward Kennedy(MA), Joseph Biden(DE), Bob Kohl(WI), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Russell Feingold(WI), Robert Torricelli(NJ), and Charles Schumer(NY). (Ref 3) The assigned committee it is then sent to sub-committee reviews once the gun legislation. In the sub-committee the bill is read and researched for validity and effect the any proposed legislation will have is measured. Lobbies from both side of the issue intervene and put pressure on the committee to vote one way or the other to better suit their views.
Outside influences on the committee are inevitable. Politics by its nature requires a give and take. Compromise is a pertinent art form in order to gain resources, in congressman s case, to keep their jobs. In many instances Congressman need to support a lobbyist bill if that lobby group could influence the voters of his/her constituency. Many times the outside influence involves contributions both from private citizens and powerful issue based lobbies. Lobbies such as National Rifle Association give large contributions to politicians to keep the voice strongly heard in gun legislation. Sometimes this kind of influence can have a less than positive effect on a committee that is trying to make decisions that will benefit the citizens. Laws are often stopped and sometimes passed to preserve relationships with lobbies. This has proven to be the case often in gun legislation.
Since 1996 to 2000 the National Rifle Association contributed a total of $6,068,567 to politicians and the Republican and Democratic parties. Of the money contributed eighty-two percent went to Republicans while only 18% went to Democrats. (Ref 1) The Republican Party has historically voted in favor of gun rights legislation while lobbying to defeat anti gun legislation. In contrast the Democratic Party has been responsible for passing most anti-gun legislation since 1996. A prime example is the Brady Bill signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The Brady bill was first introduced into congress in the eighties, but was defeated again and again. At the time of the bill first introduction a republican president was in office. It was not passed and singed into law until Bill Clinton, a Democrat, took office in 1993. A direct parallel can be drawn in this situation. The Republican Party did not want the bill to pass, not because of its merit, positive or negative, but because of the large contributions given from the gun lobby. Many of the Republican committee members represented districts or states where many of their constituents own guns or where hunting and sports that utilize guns is widely participated in.
The voting records of members of the judicial sub-committee reflect this parallel. The Republican members of the sub-committees have voted consistently against gun control measures on seventy-eight percent of the bills brought before their committees; while the Democrats have voted only about fifteen percent against the same gun control measures in the committee.(Ref 1) That is a staggering fact considering that the percent by which each party voted for or against a gun control issue is almost directly proportional to the amount of contributions they received from the National Rifle Association. Today the National Rifle association is lobbying as hard as ever. As of September 2000 the NRA has already increased their total contributions by four hundred thousand dollars from $5,043,000.00. This will have an assumable large effect on current gun legislation and elections of the coming year.
Gun Control Legislation has been effective in some instances. Although enforcing the laws that are currently on the books has been more of a challenge in response to the rise in gun shows across the country. The Brady Bill has effectively stopped many criminals and could be criminals from purchasing a firearm. In just the first 3 months of the bill being in effect there were 40,846 background checks ran resulting in 11,962 applicants to be turned around because of past criminal histories. Normally those 11,962 applicants would have had very minimal trouble purchasing a firearm. The incredible aspect of the Brady bill is the residual effect it has had. (Ref 6)The background checks of the past year have not only kept people with criminal backgrounds from purchasing firearms, but also have averaged about 5 criminals a day trying to weapons while on bail or wanted. The bill is taking the country s wanted off the streets and making society a little safer place.
The public reaction has been favorable according to most polls. As of 1995 seventy-nine percent of Americans favored having the government put stricter restrictions on guns and the means by which they can be obtained. As of 1997 seventy-three percent of Americans supported the ban on assault weapons that percentage includes sixty percent of republican that approve as well. The flip side of the coin is of course the gun control opposition. The opposition is primarily composed of lawful gun owners and gun lobbies such as the National Rifle Association. (Ref 5) The National Rifle Association is the most vocal on the subject. They contend that anti-gun advocates misconstrue facts and mislead the public. An example is their recent objection to the use of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms investigation methods to support two bills being introduced by democratic Senators. Senator Barbara Boxer s (D-CA)”junk guns” bill s primary support comes from, which the National Rifle Association calls inaccurate, a method called tracing. Tracing is the method of tracing a gun from the manufacturer to the retailer then to the owner then so on. Senator Boxer uses it to provide statistics that show one kind of gun is more likely to be used in a crime; in fact, according to the National Rifle Association, the method of tracing is not used for or intended to be able to pin point a gun to its use. The new regulations in effect will aid in making our nation a more responsible and safe one. Although there are miles to go gun legislation has gone a long way.
10.) Joseph, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Three volumes (1833).