Gun control and the Second Amendment to the Constitution are widely discussed topics on a fairly consistent basis. The debate over gun control and a person’s right to bear arms becomes more intense in the aftermath of an incident that involved the use of a gun, like the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Despite the debate that has extended throughout a good part of the nation’s history, the United States Supreme Court only fairly recently affirmed the right of an individual to possess a firearm. In two cases, Columbia v. Heller in 2008 and McDonald v. Chicago in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that the Second Amendment to the Constitution protects the right of an individual to possess a gun for purposes historically deemed as lawful. For example, a person has the constitutional right to own and possess a gun for self defense within his or her home. Other permissible reasons exist under the constitution for possessing a gun, according to the Supreme Court.
Despite the current position of the Supreme Court on gun possession for a lawful purpose generally, some level of debate persists regarding the exact meaning of the Second Amendment itself. Part of the original Bill of Rights, or the first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Second Amendment is also one of the shortest, providing in its entirety:
“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.”
Although the Supreme Court ruled that this clauses allows individuals to own and possess guns for lawful personal purposes, some scholars and activists contend that this is not a proper reading of the amendment. They argue that the conclusion reached by the Supreme Court fails to incorporate what they maintain is a key element of the amendment: maintaining a well regulated militia to provide for the security of the state. Those who maintain that the Supreme Court has not correctly interpreted the amendment argue that gun possession is intended for specifically public purpose of maintaining a militia to protect a state.
The issue of the constitutionality of gun control in this day and age largely boils down to a consideration of whether or not certain types of guns appropriately can be controlled or forbidden by the government. In other words, do the states and the federal government have the constitutional ability to restrict or ban the use of certain classes of guns like semi-automatic or automatic guns.
On one end of the spectrum, advocacy groups like the National Rifle Association maintain that the Constitution severely limits the ability of the government to restrict certain classes of guns from private ownership. The NRA consistently has maintained that even semi-automatic guns and assault weapons represent a constitutionally protected class of weapons. The majority of Republicans and a significant minority of Democrats in Congress historically have leaned towards this line of argument.
At the other end of the spectrum, gun control advocates not only seek a ban on assault weapons but on handguns as well. In light of the two Supreme Court cases discussed previously, a law banning handguns would be deemed unconstitutional at this point in time.
Some elected officials and advocates for and against gun control have taken a more middle of the road approach in the debate. For example, even conservatives like former President Ronald Reagan supported the idea of an assault weapon ban. Reliably conservative Associate Justice Antonin Scalia has written such a ban would meet constitutional muster.
It isn’t unreasonable to keep certain people from acquiring firearms, regardless of the type or caliber. Some people simply cannot and should not have firearms because they are simply not mentally sound enough to use them properly.
However, for those of us that are of sound mind, isn’t possessing a specific type of weapon a matter of personal preference? Should Uncle Sam (in the name of “security”) be able to restrict our choices on firearms because of a few bad apples, or is the current gun control effort by the U.S. government taking advantage of circumstances and really about controlling U.S. citizens even more?
What say you?