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Pros & Cons of Gun Ownership & Use Laws for Individuals


Gun Groups Offer Free Concealed-Carry Gun Training To School Employees
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About 80 million Americans, representing half of U.S. homes, own more than 223 million guns. And yet, 60% of Democrats and 30% of Republicans favor stronger gun ownership laws.

Historically, states have regulated laws governing individual ownership and use of guns. State gun laws vary widely from loose regulations in many southern, western and rural states to restrictive laws in the largest cities. In the 1980s, though, the National Rifle Association increased pressure on Congress to loosen gun control laws and restrictions.

In June 2010, however, the Supreme Court struck down Chicago's restrictive gun-control laws, declaring that "that Americans in all 50 states have a constitutional right to possess firearms for self-defense."

Gun Rights & the Second Amendment

Gun rights are granted by the Second Amendment, which reads: "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."

All political viewpoints agree that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of the government to maintain an armed militia to protect the nation. But disagreement historically existed as to whether or not it guarantees the right of all persons to own/use guns any place and at any time..

Collective Rights vs. Individual Rights

Until the mid-20th century, liberal constitutional scholars held a Collective Rights position, that the Second Amendment only protects the collective right of the states to maintain armed militias.

Conservative scholars held an Individual Rights position that the Second Amendment also grants an individual's right to own guns as private property, and that most restrictions on buying and carrying guns impede individual rights.

Gun Control & the World

The U.S. has the highest rate of gun ownership and of gun homicide in the developed world, per a 1999 Harvard School of Public Health study.

In 1997, Great Britain banned private ownership of almost all handguns. And in Australia, Prime Minister John Howard commented after a 1996 mass killings in that country that "we took action to limit the availability of funs, and we showed a national resolved that the gun culture that is such a negative in the U.S. would never become a negative in our country."

Wrote Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne in 2007, "Our country is a laughingstock on the rest of the planet because of our devotion to unlimited gun rights."

Latest Developments

(See specific PROS and CONS at page two of this article.)

Two U.S. Supreme Court rulings, District of Columbia vs. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010), effectively struck down or nullified restrictive gun ownership and use laws for individuals.

District of Columbia vs. Heller

In 2003, six Washington D.C. residents filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the constitutionality of Washington D.C.'s Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975, considered among the most restrictive in the U.S.

Enacted in response to a horrifically high crime and gun violence rate, the D.C. law outlawed ownership of handguns, except for police officers and certain others. The D.C. law also specified that shotguns and rifles must be kept unloaded or dissembled, and with the trigger locked. (Read more about D.C. gun laws.)

The federal District Court dismissed the lawsuit.

The six litigants, led by Dick Heller, a Federal Judicial Center guard who wanted to keep a gun at home, appealed the dismissal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C.

On March 9, 2007, the federal Appeals court voted 2 to 1 to strike down the dismissal of the Heller suit. Wrote the majority:

"To summarize, we conclude that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms... That is not to suggest that the government is absolutely barred from regulating the use and ownership of pistols. "

The NRA called the ruling a "significant victory for individual... rights."

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence called it "judicial activism at its worst."

Supreme Court Review of District of Columbia vs. Heller

Both litigants and defendants appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear this landmark gun rights case. On March 18, 2008, the Court heard oral arguments from both sides.

On June 26, 2008, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to overturn the restrictive gun laws of Washington D.C., as depriving individuals of their right to own and use a gun in their own home and in federal "enclaves," as guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

McDonald v. City of Chicago

On June 28, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court resolved anmiguities created by its District of Columbia vs. Heller decision as to whether or not individual gun rights apply to all states, as well.

Briefly, in striking down Chicago's strict handgun laws, the Court established, by vote of 5 to 4, that ""the right to keep and bear arms is a privilege of American citizenship that applies to the States."


Political focus on U.S. gun control laws has increased since 1968 passage of the Gun Control Act, enacted after the assassinations of John F. and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Between 1985 and 1996, 28 states eased restrictions on concealed weapon carrying. As of 2000, 22 states allowed concealed guns to be carried almost anywhere, including places of worship.

The following are the federal laws enacted to control/tax guns held by individuals:

  • 1934 - National Firearms Act imposed a tax on the sale of machine guns and short-barrel firearms, in reaction public rage over gangster activity.
  • 1938 - Federal Firearms Act required licensing of gun dealers.
  • 1968 - Gun Control Act expanded licensing and record-keeping; banned felons and the mentally ill from buying guns; banned the mail order sale of guns.
  • 1972 - The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was created to oversee federal regulation of guns.
  • 1986 - Firearms Owners Protection Act eased some gun sale restrictions, reflecting the growing influence of the NRA under President Reagan.
  • 1993 - Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act requires gun dealers to run background checks on purchasers. Establishes national database of prohibited gun owners.
  • 1994 - Violent Crime Control Act banned the sale of new assault weapons for ten years. The Act was sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY). the Republican-led Congress allowed the law expire in 2004.
  • 2003 - Tiahrt Amendment protects gun dealers and manufacturers from certain lawsuits.
  • 2007 - via the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, Congress closes loopholes in the national database after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech University.
(For more info from 1791 to 1999, see A Brief History of Firearms Regulation in America by Robert Longley, About.com Gov't Info Guide.)
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