I have written several articles on postings related to politics. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address different aspects on these political events.
Amendment II–The Right To Bear Arms
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.
Gun policy is among the most controversial topics in the United States. Acts of gun violence, particularly mass shootings of unarmed innocents, shake us to our core. What can or should we do about it?
To many, the answer is to enact more restrictions on legal access to firearms. Advocates on this side of the debate propose measures such as stricter eligibility requirements for age and mental health, more thorough background checks, longer waiting periods, fewer authorized sellers, strict liability for gun manufacturers, and/or bans on various firearms and firearm accessories.
Others, mindful of government’s failure to protect people, especially in “gun-free” zones and cities, are skeptical that tighter restrictions will improve public safety. They believe that reducing legal access to guns for law-abiding adults weakens the ability of people to both protect themselves from crime and defend their rights from growing encroachment by any government emboldened to abuse its authority.
How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment
The Founders never intended to create an unregulated individual right to a gun. Today, millions believe they did. Here’s how it happened.
“A fraud on the American public.” That’s how former Chief Justice Warren Burger described the idea that the Second Amendment gives an unfettered individual right to a gun. When he spoke these words to PBS in 1990, the rock-ribbed conservative appointed by Richard Nixon was expressing the longtime consensus of historians and judges across the political spectrum.
Twenty-five years later, Burger’s view seems as quaint as a powdered wig. Not only is an individual right to a firearm widely accepted, but increasingly states are also passing laws to legalize carrying weapons on streets, in parks, in bars—even in churches.
Many are startled to learn that the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t rule that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to own a gun until 2008, when District of Columbia v. Heller struck down the capital’s law effectively banning handguns in the home. In fact, every other time the court had ruled previously, it had ruled otherwise. Why such a head-snapping turnaround? Don’t look for answers in dusty law books or the arcane reaches of theory.
So how does legal change happen in America? We’ve seen some remarkably successful drives in recent years—think of the push for marriage equality, or to undo campaign finance laws. Law students might be taught that the court is moved by powerhouse legal arguments or subtle shifts in doctrine. The National Rifle Association’s long crusade to bring its interpretation of the Constitution into the mainstream teaches a different lesson: Constitutional change is the product of public argument and political maneuvering. The pro-gun movement may have started with scholarship, but then it targeted public opinion and shifted the organs of government. By the time the issue reached the Supreme Court, the desired new doctrine fell like a ripe apple from a tree.
* * *
The Second Amendment consists of just one sentence: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Today, scholars debate its bizarre comma placement, trying to make sense of the various clauses, and politicians routinely declare themselves to be its “strong supporters.” But in the grand sweep of American history, this sentence has never been among the most prominent constitutional provisions. In fact, for two centuries it was largely ignored.
The amendment grew out of the political tumult surrounding the drafting of the Constitution, which was done in secret by a group of mostly young men, many of whom had served together in the Continental Army. Having seen the chaos and mob violence that followed the Revolution, these “Federalists” feared the consequences of a weak central authority. They produced a charter that shifted power—at the time in the hands of the states—to a new national government.
“Anti-Federalists” opposed this new Constitution. The foes worried, among other things, that the new government would establish a “standing army” of professional soldiers and would disarm the 13 state militias, made up of part-time citizen-soldiers and revered as bulwarks against tyranny. These militias were the product of a world of civic duty and governmental compulsion utterly alien to us today. Every white man age 16 to 60 was enrolled. He was actually required to own—and bring—a musket or other military weapon.
On June 8, 1789, James Madison—an ardent Federalist who had won election to Congress only after agreeing to push for changes to the newly ratified Constitution—proposed 17 amendments on topics ranging from the size of congressional districts to legislative pay to the right to religious freedom. One addressed the “well regulated militia” and the right “to keep and bear arms.” We don’t really know what he meant by it. At the time, Americans expected to be able to own guns, a legacy of English common law and rights. But the overwhelming use of the phrase “bear arms” in those days referred to military activities.
There is not a single word about an individual’s right to a gun for self-defense or recreation in Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention. Nor was it mentioned, with a few scattered exceptions, in the records of the ratification debates in the states. Nor did the U.S. House of Representatives discuss the topic as it marked up the Bill of Rights. In fact, the original version passed by the House included a conscientious objector provision. “A well regulated militia,” it explained, “composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.”
Though state militias eventually dissolved, for two centuries we had guns (plenty!) and we had gun laws in towns and states, governing everything from where gunpowder could be stored to who could carry a weapon—and courts overwhelmingly upheld these restrictions. Gun rights and gun control were seen as going hand in hand. Four times between 1876 and 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to rule that the Second Amendment protected individual gun ownership outside the context of a militia. As the Tennessee Supreme Court put it in 1840, “A man in the pursuit of deer, elk, and buffaloes might carry his rifle every day for forty years, and yet it would never be said of him that he had borne arms; much less could it be said that a private citizen bears arms because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane.”
* * *
Cue the National Rifle Association. We all know of the organization’s considerable power over the ballot box and legislation. Bill Clinton groused in 1994 after the Democrats lost their congressional majority, “The NRA is the reason the Republicans control the House.” Just last year, it managed to foster a successful filibuster of even a modest background-check proposal in the U.S. Senate, despite 90 percent public approval of the measure.
What is less known—and perhaps more significant—is its rising sway over constitutional law.
The NRA was founded by a group of Union officers after the Civil War who, perturbed by their troops’ poor marksmanship, wanted a way to sponsor shooting training and competitions. The group testified in support of the first federal gun law in 1934, which cracked down on the machine guns beloved by Bonnie and Clyde and other bank robbers. When a lawmaker asked whether the proposal violated the Constitution, the NRA witness responded, “I have not given it any study from that point of view.” The group lobbied quietly against the most stringent regulations, but its principal focus was hunting and sportsmanship: bagging deer, not blocking laws. In the late 1950s, it opened a new headquarters to house its hundreds of employees. Metal letters on the facade spelled out its purpose: firearms safety education, marksmanship training, shooting for recreation.
Cut to 1977. Gun-group veterans still call the NRA’s annual meeting that year the “Revolt at Cincinnati.” After the organization’s leadership had decided to move its headquarters to Colorado, signaling a retreat from politics, more than a thousand angry rebels showed up at the annual convention. By four in the morning, the dissenters had voted out the organization’s leadership. Activists from the Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms pushed their way into power.
The NRA’s new leadership was dramatic, dogmatic and overtly ideological. For the first time, the organization formally embraced the idea that the sacred Second Amendment was at the heart of its concerns.
The gun lobby’s lurch rightward was part of a larger conservative backlash that took place across the Republican coalition in the 1970s. One after another, once-sleepy traditional organizations galvanized as conservative activists wrested control.
Conservatives tossed around the language of insurrection with the ardor of a Berkeley Weatherman. The “Revolt at Cincinnati” was followed by the “tax revolt,” which began in California in 1979, and the “sagebrush rebellion” against Interior Department land policies. All these groups shared a deep distrust of the federal government and spoke in the language of libertarianism. They formed a potent new partisan coalition.
Politicians adjusted in turn. The 1972 Republican platform had supported gun control, with a focus on restricting the sale of “cheap handguns.” Just three years later in 1975, preparing to challenge Gerald R. Ford for the Republican nomination, Reagan wrote in Guns & Ammo magazine, “The Second Amendment is clear, or ought to be. It appears to leave little if any leeway for the gun control advocate.” By 1980 the GOP platform proclaimed, “We believe the right of citizens to keep and bear arms must be preserved. Accordingly, we oppose federal registration of firearms.” That year the NRA gave Reagan its first-ever presidential endorsement.
Today at the NRA’s headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia, oversized letters on the facade no longer refer to “marksmanship” and “safety.” Instead, the Second Amendment is emblazoned on a wall of the building’s lobby. Visitors might not notice that the text is incomplete. It reads:
“.. the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
The first half—the part about the well regulated militia—has been edited out.
* * *
From 1888, when law review articles first were indexed, through 1959, every single one on the Second Amendment concluded it did not guarantee an individual right to a gun. The first to argue otherwise, written by a William and Mary law student named Stuart R. Hays, appeared in 1960. He began by citing an article in the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine and argued that the amendment enforced a “right of revolution,” of which the Southern states availed themselves during what the author called “The War Between the States.”
At first, only a few articles echoed that view. Then, starting in the late 1970s, a squad of attorneys and professors began to churn out law review submissions, dozens of them, at a prodigious rate. Funds—much of them from the NRA—flowed freely. An essay contest, grants to write book reviews, the creation of “Academics for the Second Amendment,” all followed. In 2003, the NRA Foundation provided $1 million to endow the Patrick Henry professorship in constitutional law and the Second Amendment at George Mason University Law School.
This fusillade of scholarship and pseudo-scholarship insisted that the traditional view—shared by courts and historians—was wrong. There had been a colossal constitutional mistake. Two centuries of legal consensus, they argued, must be overturned.
If one delves into the claims these scholars were making, a startling number of them crumble. Historian Jack Rakove, whose Pulitzer-Prize winning book Original Meanings explored the founders’ myriad views, notes, “It is one thing to ransack the sources for a set of useful quotations, another to weigh their interpretive authority. … There are, in fact, only a handful of sources from the period of constitutional formation that bear directly on the questions that lie at the heart of our current controversies about the regulation of privately owned firearms. If Americans has indeed been concerned with the impact of the Constitution on this right … the proponents of individual right theory would not have to recycle the same handful of references … or to rip promising snippets of quotations from the texts and speeches in which they are embedded.”
And there were plenty of promising snippets to rip. There was the ringing declaration from Patrick Henry: “The great object is, that every man be armed.” The eloquent patriot’s declaration provided the title for the ur-text for the gun rights movement, Stephen Halbrook’s 1984 book, That Every Man Be Armed. It is cited reverentially in law review articles and scholarly texts. The Second Amendment professorship at George Mason University is named after Henry. A $10,000 gift to the NRA makes you a “Patrick Henry Member.”
The quote has been plucked from Henry’s speech at Virginia’s ratifying convention for the Constitution in 1788. But if you look at the full text, he was complaining about the cost of both the federal government and the state arming the militia. (“The great object is, that every man be armed,” he said. “At a very great cost, we shall be doubly armed.”) In other words: Sure, let every man be armed, but only once! Far from a ringing statement of individual gun-toting freedom, it was an early American example of a local politician complaining about government waste.
Thomas Jefferson offers numerous opportunities for pro-gun advocates. “Historical research demonstrates the Founders out-‘NRAing’ even the NRA,” proclaimed one prolific scholar. “‘One loves to possess arms’ wrote Thomas Jefferson, the premier intellectual of his day, to George Washington on June 19, 1796.” What a find! Oops: Jefferson was not talking about guns. He was writing to Washington asking for copies of some old letters, to have handy so he could issue a rebuttal in case he got attacked for a decision he made as secretary of state. The NRA website still includes the quote. You can go online to buy a T-shirt emblazoned with Jefferson’s mangled words.
Some of the assumptions were simply funny. In his book on judicial philosophy, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for example, lauded Professor Joyce Lee Malcolm’s “excellent study” of English gun rights, noting sarcastically, “she is not a member of the Michigan Militia, but an Englishwoman.” But a historian fact-checked the justice: “Malcolm’s name may sound British, and Bentley College, where Malcolm teaches history, may sound like a college at Oxford, but in fact Malcolm was born and raised in Utica, New York, and Bentley is a business college in Massachusetts.”
Still, all this focus on historical research began to have an impact. And eventually these law professors, many toiling at the fringes of respectability, were joined by a few of academia’s leading lights. Sanford Levinson is a prominent liberal constitutional law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1989, he published an article tweaking other progressives for ignoring “The Embarrassing Second Amendment.” “For too long,” he wrote, “most members of the legal academy have treated the Second Amendment as the equivalent of an embarrassing relative, whose mention brings a quick change of subject to other, more respectable, family members. That will no longer do.” Levinson was soon joined by Akhil Reed Amar of Yale and Harvard’s Laurence Tribe. These prominent progressives had differing opinions on the amendment and its scope. But what mattered was their political provenance—they were liberals! (One is reminded of Robert Frost’s definition of a liberal: someone so open-minded he will not take his own side in an argument.)
* * *
As the revisionist perspective took hold, government agencies also began to shift. In 1981, Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate for the first time in 24 years. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch became chair of a key Judiciary Committee panel, where he commissioned a study on “The Right to Keep and Bear Arms.” In a breathless tone it announced, “What the Subcommittee on the Constitution uncovered was clear—and long lost—proof that the second amendment to our Constitution was intended as an individual right of the American citizen to keep and carry arms in a peaceful manner, for protection of himself, his family, and his freedoms.” The cryptologist discovering invisible writing on the back of the Declaration of Independence in the Disney movie National Treasure could not have said it better.
Despite Hatch’s dramatic “discovery,” a constitutional right to gun ownership was still a stretch, even for the conservatives in Reagan’s Justice Department, who were reluctant to undo the work not only of judges, but also of democratically elected legislators. When Ed Meese, Reagan’s attorney general, commissioned a comprehensive strategy for jurisprudential change in 15 areas ranging from the “exclusionary rule” under the Fourth Amendment to public initiatives to private religious education, it did not include a plan for the Second Amendment.
But in time, the NRA’s power to elect presidents began to shift executive branch policies, too. In 2000, gun activists strongly backed Governor George W. Bush of Texas. After the election, Bush’s new attorney general, John Ashcroft, reversed the Justice Department’s stance. The NRA’s head lobbyist read the new policy aloud at its 2001 convention in Kansas City: “The text and original intent of the Second Amendment clearly protect the right of individuals to keep and bear firearms.”
In the meantime, the “individual right” argument was starting to win in another forum: public opinion. In 1959, according to a Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans favored banning handguns; that dropped to 41 percent by 1975 and 24 percent in 2012. By early 2008, according to Gallup, 73 percent of Americans believed the Second Amendment “guaranteed the rights of Americans to own guns” outside the militia.
Over the past decade, the idea of a Second Amendment right has become synonymous with conservatism, even with support for the Republican Party. In 1993, for example, the New York Times mentioned “gun control” 388 times, and the Second Amendment only 16. By 2008, overall mentions of the issue dropped to 160 but the Second Amendment was mentioned 59 times.
* * *
In the end, it was neither the NRA nor the Bush administration that pressed the Supreme Court to reverse its centuries-old approach, but a small group of libertarian lawyers who believed other gun advocates were too timid. They targeted a gun law passed by the local government in Washington, D.C., in 1976—perhaps the nation’s strictest—that barred individuals from keeping a loaded handgun at home without a trigger lock. They recruited an appealing plaintiff: Dick Heller, a security guard at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building, who wanted to bring his work revolver home to his high-crime neighborhood. The NRA worried it lacked the five votes necessary to win. The organization tried to sideswipe the effort, filing what Heller’s lawyers called “sham litigation” to give courts an excuse to avoid a constitutional ruling. But the momentum that the NRA itself had set in motion proved unstoppable, and the big case made its way to the Supreme Court.
The argument presented in District of Columbia v. Heller showed just how far the gun rights crusade had come. Nearly all the questions focused on arcane matters of colonial history. Few dealt with preventing gun violence, social science findings or the effectiveness of today’s gun laws—the kinds of things judges might once have considered. On June 26, 2008, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to own a weapon “in common use” to protect “hearth and home.” Scalia wrote the opinion, which he later called the “vindication” of his judicial philosophy.
After the decision was announced, Heller stood on the steps of the court for a triumphant press conference. Held aloft behind him was a poster bearing that quote from Patrick Henry, unearthed by the scholars who had proven so important for the successful drive: “Let every man be armed.”
* * *
In January 2014, liberal activists jammed a conference room at the Open Society Foundations in New York City. They were there to hear former NRA president David Keene. “Of course, we really just invited David to coax him into giving us the secret of the NRA’s success,” joked the moderator.
Improbably, the gun movement’s triumph has become a template for progressives, many of whom are appalled by the substance of the victories. Keene was joined by Evan Wolfson, the organizer of Freedom to Marry, whose movement has begun to win startling victories for marriage equality in courts. Once, conservatives fumed about activist courts enforcing newly articulated rights—a woman’s right to reproductive choice, equal protection for all races. But just as they learned from the left’s legal victories in those fields, today progressives are trying to re-learn from their conservative counterparts.
One lesson: patience. The fight for gun rights took decades. Another lesson, perhaps obvious: There is no substitute for political organizing. A century ago the satirical character Mr. Dooley famously said in an Irish brogue, “No matter whether th’ Constitution follows th’ flag or not, the Supreme Coort follows th’ iliction returns.” Before social movements can win at the court they must win at the ballot box. The five justices in the Heller majority were all nominated by presidents who themselves were NRA members.
But even more important is this: Activists turned their fight over gun control into a constitutional crusade. Modern political consultants may tell clients that constitutional law and the role of the Supreme Court is too arcane for discussion at the proverbial “kitchen table.” Nonsense. Americans always have been engaged, and at times enraged, by constitutional doctrine. Deep notions of freedom and rights have retained totemic power. Today’s “Second Amendment supporters” recognize that claiming the constitutional high ground goes far toward winning an argument.
Liberal lawyers might once have rushed to court at the slightest provocation. Now, they are starting to realize that a long, full jurisprudential campaign is needed to achieve major goals. Since 2011, activists have waged a widespread public education campaign to persuade citizens that new state laws were illegitimate attempts to curb voting rights, all as a precursor to winning court victories. Now many democracy activists, mortified by recent Supreme Court rulings in campaign finance cases (all with Heller’s same 5-4 split), have begun to map out a path to overturn Citizens United and other recent cases. Years of scholarship, theorizing, amicus briefs, test cases and minority dissents await before a new majority can refashion recent constitutional doctrine.
Molding public opinion is the most important factor. Abraham Lincoln, debating slavery, said in 1858, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.” The triumph of gun rights reminds us today: If you want to win in the court of law, first win in the court of public opinion.
How Conservatives “Reinvented” the Second Amendment
While conventional wisdom suggests that an individual’s right to bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the Constitution, it is, in fact, a relatively recent interpretation, according to New Yorker writer and legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
As politicians weigh new gun-control legislation in the wake of Friday’s brutal shooting in Newtown, Conn., FRONTLINE spoke with Toobin, author of The Oath, about what he describes as “the conservative re-casting of the Second Amendment” and whether potential new gun control laws could conflict with it.
The overwhelming consensus was that the Second Amendment gave state militias a right to obtain and bear arms, but it did it not give individuals any rights. … The words of the Second Amendment are ungrammatical and difficult to understand in the best of circumstances. But if you look at the history and context of the amendment, including other references to state militias in the Constitution, it suggests that the amendment only applied to state militias.“It was simply taken as a given in constitutional law that the Second Amendment did not give individuals a right to bear arms.”
Now what makes this subject so difficult in the modern world is that state militias don’t exist anymore, so we have no familiarity with what a state militia is. But it was simply taken as a given in constitutional law that the Second Amendment did not give individuals a right to bear arms.
It really started to change with the rise of the modern conservative movement in the ’70s and ’80s. You had Ronald Reagan, Edwin Meese, who was his attorney general, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in the Senate, really making a very sustained argument that the courts had misunderstood the Second Amendment for hundreds of years, and the NRA was an indispensable partner in this moment. And it became the conservative conventional wisdom that the Second Amendment gave an individual the right to bear arms.
1977 is really a key moment here, because that’s when the National Rifle Association went from being a largely apolitical gun-safety organization to a mobilized political operation that was dedicated to fighting gun control. … It both reflected and reinforced the growing conservatism of the Republican Party generally.
You had Orrin Hatch, when he was chairman of the judiciary subcommittee, putting forth a major report [PDF] that said all the courts were wrong about the Second Amendment. You have Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court starting to advocate a renewed understanding of the Second Amendment. The country appears to have gotten more sympathetic to the argument that guns make people safer, not more dangerous.
The idea that the Second Amendment gives individuals a right to bear arms was advocated so forcefully, so broadly and so persuasively that Democrats gave up on fighting the issue.
I think Obama personally illustrates how much the individual rights view has evolved into the conventional wisdom even for Democrats.
Now, I think Obama and at least some Republicans would differ about the extent of what the Second Amendment represents, but I think Obama’s embrace of the individual rights theory illustrates how pervasive that theory has become.
… The climax of this reinvention of the Second Amendment came with the [District of Columbia v.] Heller case in 2008 with the Supreme Court when it reversed decades of precedent and [gave] individuals a right to bear arms. What the court left unclear was how extensive that right was.“The country appears to have gotten more sympathetic to the argument that guns make people safer, not more dangerous.”
What Heller says is that you have a right to a handgun in your home. It does not say anything about assault weapons. It does not say anything about concealed weapons.
So the limits — and it does suggest there are some limits, like you can’t have a tank, you can’t have a Stinger missile — but the courts are really struggling now with defining what the limits of the Second Amendment are.
I think there’s considerable ambiguity at the moment about what’s constitutional and what’s not. Now that didn’t used to be the case. All through the ’60s and ’70s, we had arguments about how much gun control was appropriate, but no one suggested that any of it was unconstitutional.
Now we have two levels of arguments: What is the right level of gun control and is it constitutional? It’s uncertain about their constitutionality today.
The assault weapons ban ended in 2004, which was before Heller. My guess is that an assault weapons ban would be constitutional, but you would get a powerful argument on the other side.
This is political as much as legal. This is about justices who come out of the conservative movement advocating positions that they’ve advocated for a long time. And what the Second Amendment means is not determined by the Second Amendment, it’s determined by who wins presidential elections and gets to appoint their like-minded justices.
These decisions about what the Constitution means are deeply political. Always have been, always will be.
Modern debates about the Second Amendment have focused on whether it protects a private right of individuals to keep and bear arms, or a right that can be exercised only through militia organizations like the National Guard. This question, however, was not even raised until long after the Bill of Rights was adopted.
Many in the Founding generation believed that governments are prone to use soldiers to oppress the people. English history suggested that this risk could be controlled by permitting the government to raise armies (consisting of full-time paid troops) only when needed to fight foreign adversaries. For other purposes, such as responding to sudden invasions or other emergencies, the government could rely on a militia that consisted of ordinary civilians who supplied their own weapons and received some part-time, unpaid military training.
The onset of war does not always allow time to raise and train an army, and the Revolutionary War showed that militia forces could not be relied on for national defense. The Constitutional Convention therefore decided that the federal government should have almost unfettered authority to establish peacetime standing armies and to regulate the militia.
This massive shift of power from the states to the federal government generated one of the chief objections to the proposed Constitution. Anti-Federalists argued that the proposed Constitution would take from the states their principal means of defense against federal usurpation. The Federalists responded that fears of federal oppression were overblown, in part because the American people were armed and would be almost impossible to subdue through military force.
Implicit in the debate between Federalists and Anti-Federalists were two shared assumptions. First, that the proposed new Constitution gave the federal government almost total legal authority over the army and militia. Second, that the federal government should not have any authority at all to disarm the citizenry. They disagreed only about whether an armed populace could adequately deter federal oppression.
The Second Amendment conceded nothing to the Anti-Federalists’ desire to sharply curtail the military power of the federal government, which would have required substantial changes in the original Constitution. Yet the Amendment was easily accepted because of widespread agreement that the federal government should not have the power to infringe the right of the people to keep and bear arms, any more than it should have the power to abridge the freedom of speech or prohibit the free exercise of religion.
Much has changed since 1791. The traditional militia fell into desuetude, and state-based militia organizations were eventually incorporated into the federal military structure. The nation’s military establishment has become enormously more powerful than eighteenth century armies. We still hear political rhetoric about federal tyranny, but most Americans do not fear the nation’s armed forces and virtually no one thinks that an armed populace could defeat those forces in battle. Furthermore, eighteenth century civilians routinely kept at home the very same weapons they would need if called to serve in the militia, while modern soldiers are equipped with weapons that differ significantly from those generally thought appropriate for civilian uses. Civilians no longer expect to use their household weapons for militia duty, although they still keep and bear arms to defend against common criminals (as well as for hunting and other forms of recreation).
The law has also changed. While states in the Founding era regulated guns—blacks were often prohibited from possessing firearms and militia weapons were frequently registered on government rolls—gun laws today are more extensive and controversial. Another important legal development was the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Second Amendment originally applied only to the federal government, leaving the states to regulate weapons as they saw fit. Although there is substantial evidence that the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was meant to protect the right of individuals to keep and bear arms from infringement by the states, the Supreme Court rejected this interpretation in United States v. Cruikshank (1876).
Until recently, the judiciary treated the Second Amendment almost as a dead letter. In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), however, the Supreme Court invalidated a federal law that forbade nearly all civilians from possessing handguns in the nation’s capital. A 5–4 majority ruled that the language and history of the Second Amendment showed that it protects a private right of individuals to have arms for their own defense, not a right of the states to maintain a militia.
The dissenters disagreed. They concluded that the Second Amendment protects a nominally individual right, though one that protects only “the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia.” They also argued that even if the Second Amendment did protect an individual right to have arms for self-defense, it should be interpreted to allow the government to ban handguns in high-crime urban areas.
Two years later, in McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010), the Court struck down a similar handgun ban at the state level, again by a 5–4 vote. Four Justices relied on judicial precedents under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Justice Thomas rejected those precedents in favor of reliance on the Privileges or Immunities Clause, but all five members of the majority concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment protects against state infringement of the same individual right that is protected from federal infringement by the Second Amendment.
Notwithstanding the lengthy opinions in Heller and McDonald, they technically ruled only that government may not ban the possession of handguns by civilians in their homes. Heller tentatively suggested a list of “presumptively lawful” regulations, including bans on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, bans on carrying firearms in “sensitive places” such as schools and government buildings, laws restricting the commercial sale of arms, bans on the concealed carry of firearms, and bans on weapons “not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.” Many issues remain open, and the lower courts have disagreed with one another about some of them, including important questions involving restrictions on carrying weapons in public.
WHAT IS HR 127? IT’S WORSE THAN YOU THINK
Did you know that under HR 127
-every gun owner will have 3 months to report all owned guns (make, model, serial number)
-you must also report where you keep your guns
-all the above is put in a database, which the general PUBLIC will have access to!
Think that’s bad, just wait…there’s MORE…
-you must apply for a license to have ANY gun
TO GET THE LICENSE YOU MUST:
-be 21 years old
-pass a background check
-pass a pysch evaluation
-pay for 24 hours of training
-AND purchase an “insurance policy” from the government ($800) PER YEAR!!!
YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO GET A LICENSE IF:
-you are evaluated as unfit
-you have ever been diagnosed with depression
-if you have ever had ANY brain disease
-if the evaluators think you have an alcohol problem
(the evaluators can also contact and interview your family, and even your ex’s to determine if you are mentally sound.)
WHAT ABOUT ‘MILITARY STYLE’ WEAPONS? GLAD YOU ASKED…
-you need a seperate permit for those
-and you will only be ALLOWED magazines that hold 10 rounds or LESS!
WHAT ABOUT ANTIQUE GUNS?
-you will need to prove ownership
-you will need to meet all requirements stated above
-you won’t be able to openly display them in your own home
SO WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT GOING TO DO IF PEOPLE VIOLATE THIS?
-The government will impose intense fines starting at $50,000 and 10-15 years MINIMUM in JAIL!!
DOES THIS MATTER TO YOU?
CALL YOUR LOCAL REPRESENTATVIVES, GET ON THE PHONE!
MAKE YOUR VOICES HEARD!
WE ALL HAVE THE RIGHT TO PROTECT OUR FAMILY AND OUR PROPERTY!
To provide for the licensing of firearm and ammunition possession and the registration of firearms, and to prohibit the possession of certain ammunition.
Ms. Jackson Lee introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary
To provide for the licensing of firearm and ammunition possession and the registration of firearms, and to prohibit the possession of certain ammunition.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the “Sabika Sheikh Firearm Licensing and Registration Act”.
SEC. 2. LICENSING OF FIREARM AND AMMUNITION POSSESSION; REGISTRATION OF FIREARMS.
(a) Firearm Licensing And Registration System.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—Chapter 44 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
“§ 932. Licensing of firearm and ammunition possession; registration of firearms
“(a) In General.—The Attorney General, through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, shall establish a system for licensing the possession of firearms or ammunition in the United States, and for the registration with the Bureau of each firearm present in the United States.
“(b) Firearm Registration System.—
“(1) REQUIRED INFORMATION.—Under the firearm registration system, the owner of a firearm shall transmit to the Bureau—
“(A) the make, model, and serial number of the firearm, the identity of the owner of the firearm, the date the firearm was acquired by the owner, and where the firearm is or will be stored; and
“(B) a notice specifying the identity of any person to whom, and any period of time during which, the firearm will be loaned to the person.
“(2) DEADLINE FOR SUPPLYING INFORMATION.—The transmission required by paragraph (1) shall be made—
“(A) in the case of a firearm acquired before the effective date of this section, within 3 months after the effective date of this section; or
“(B) in the case of a firearm acquired on or after the effective date, on the date the owner acquires the firearm.
“(A) IN GENERAL.—The Attorney General shall establish and maintain a database of all firearms registered pursuant to this subsection.
“(B) ACCESS.—The Attorney General shall make the contents of the database accessible to all members of the public, all Federal, State, and local law enforcement authorities, all branches of the United States Armed Forces, and all State and local governments, as defined by the Bureau.
“(c) Licensing System.—
“(A) GENERAL LICENSE.—Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, the Attorney General shall issue to an individual a license to possess a firearm and ammunition if the individual—
“(i) has attained 21 years of age;
“(ii) after applying for the license—
“(I) undergoes a criminal background check conducted by the national instant criminal background check system established under section 103 of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, and the check does not indicate that possession of a firearm by the individual would violate subsection (g) or (n) of section 922 or State law;
“(II) undergoes a psychological evaluation conducted in accordance with paragraph (2), and the evaluation does not indicate that the individual is psychologically unsuited to possess a firearm; and
“(III) successfully completes a training course, certified by the Attorney General, in the use, safety, and storage of firearms, that includes at least 24 hours of training; and
“(iii) demonstrates that, on issuance of the license, the individual will have in effect an insurance policy issued under subsection (d).
“(B) ANTIQUE FIREARM DISPLAY LICENSE.—The Attorney General shall issue to an individual a license to display an antique firearm in a residence of the individual if the individual—
“(i) is the holder of a license issued under subparagraph (A);
“(ii) supplies proof that the individual owns an antique firearm;
“(iii) describes the manner in which the firearm will be displayed in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Attorney General, and certifies that the firearm will be so displayed; and
“(iv) demonstrates that the individual has provided for storage of the firearm in a safe or facility approved by the Attorney General for the storage of firearms.
“(C) MILITARY-STYLE WEAPONS LICENSE.—The Attorney General shall issue to an individual a license to own and possess a military-style weapon if the individual—
“(i) is the holder of a license issued under subparagraph (A); and
“(ii) after applying for a license under this subparagraph, successfully completes a training course, certified by the Attorney General, in the use, safety, and storage of the weapon, that includes at least 24 hours of training and live fire training.
“(2) PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION.—A psychological evaluation is conducted in accordance with this paragraph if—
“(A) the evaluation is conducted in compliance with such standards as shall be established by the Attorney General;
“(B) the evaluation is conducted by a licensed psychologist approved by the Attorney General;
“(C) as deemed necessary by the licensed psychologist involved, the evaluation included a psychological evaluation of other members of the household in which the individual resides; and
“(D) as part of the psychological evaluation, the licensed psychologist interviewed any spouse of the individual, any former spouse of the individual, and at least 2 other persons who are a member of the family of, or an associate of, the individual to further determine the state of the mental, emotional, and relational stability of the individual in relation to firearms.
“(3) DENIAL OF LICENSE.—
“(A) REQUIRED.—The Attorney General shall deny such a license to an individual if—
“(i) the individual is prohibited by Federal law from possessing a firearm; or
“(ii) the individual has been hospitalized—
“(I) with a mental illness, disturbance, or diagnosis (including depression, homicidal ideation, suicidal ideation, attempted suicide, or addiction to a controlled substance (within the meaning of the Controlled Substances Act) or alcohol), or a brain disease (including dementia or Alzheimer’s); or
“(II) on account of conduct that endangers self or others.
“(B) AUTHORIZED.—The Attorney General may deny such a license to an individual if—
“(i) the psychological evaluation referred to in paragraph (2) indicates that the individual—
“(I) has a chronic mental illness or disturbance, or a brain disease, referred to in subparagraph (A)(ii)(I);
“(II) is addicted to a controlled substance (within the meaning of the Controlled Substances Act) or alcohol; or
“(III) has attempted to commit suicide; or
“(ii) prior psychological treatment or evaluation of the individual indicated that the individual engaged in conduct that posed a danger to self or others.
“(4) SUSPENSION OF LICENSE.—
“(A) IN GENERAL.—A license issued under this subsection to an individual who is under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year is hereby suspended.
“(B) AUTHORIZED FOR LACK OF FIREARM INSURANCE.—The Attorney General may suspend a license issued under this subsection to an individual who has violated section 922(dd) in the most recent 12-month period.
“(5) REVOCATION OF LICENSE.—A license issued under this subsection to an individual who is or becomes prohibited by Federal or State law from possessing a firearm is hereby revoked. Such an individual shall immediately return the license, and surrender all firearms and ammunition owned or possessed by the individual, to the Attorney General.
“(6) EXPIRATION OF LICENSE.—A license issued to an individual under this subsection shall expire—
“(A) in the case of a license that has been in effect for less than 5 years, 1 year after issuance or renewal, as the case may be; or
“(B) in the case of a license that has been in effect for at least 5 years, 3 years after the most recent date the license is renewed.
“(7) RENEWAL OF LICENSE.—The Attorney General shall renew a license issued to an individual under this subsection if the individual—
“(A) requests the renewal by the end of the 60-day period that begins with the date the license expires;
“(B) in the 3-year period ending with the date the renewal is requested—
“(i) has met the requirement of paragraph (1)(A)(ii)(II); and
“(ii) has successfully completed a training course, certified by the Attorney General, in the use, safety, and storage of firearms, that includes at least 8 hours of training;
“(C) meets the requirement of paragraph (1)(A)(iii); and
“(D) in the case of a license issued under paragraph (1)(C), in the 2-year period ending with the date the renewal is requested, has successfully completed a training course, certified by the Attorney General, that includes at least 8 hours of training in the use of the weapon subject to the license.
“(d) Firearm Insurance.—
“(1) IN GENERAL.—The Attorney General shall issue to any person who has applied for a license pursuant to subsection (c) and has paid to the Attorney General the fee specified in paragraph (2) of this subsection a policy that insures the person against liability for losses and damages resulting from the use of any firearm by the person during the 1-year period that begins with the date the policy is issued.
“(2) FEE.—The fee specified in this paragraph is $800.”.
(2) MILITARY-STYLE WEAPON DEFINED.—Section 921(a) of such title is amended by inserting after paragraph (29) the following:
“(30) The term ‘military-style weapon’ means—
“(A) any of the firearms, or copies or duplicates of the firearms in any caliber, known as—
“(i) Norinco, Mitchell, and Poly Technologies Avtomat Kalashnikovs (all models);
“(ii) Action Arms Israeli Military Industries UZI and Galil;
“(iii) Beretta Ar70 (SC–70);
“(iv) Colt AR–15;
“(v) Fabrique National FN/FAL, FN/LAR, and FNC;
“(vi) SWD M–10, M–11, M–11/9, and M–12;
“(vii) Steyr AUG;
“(viii) INTRATEC TEC–9, TEC–DC9 and TEC–22; and
“(ix) revolving cylinder shotguns, such as (or similar to) the Street Sweeper and Striker 12;
“(B) a semiautomatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of—
“(i) a folding or telescoping stock;
“(ii) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
“(iii) a bayonet mount;
“(iv) a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor; and
“(v) a grenade launcher;
“(C) a semiautomatic pistol that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of—
“(i) an ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip;
“(ii) a threaded barrel capable of accepting a barrel extender, flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer;
“(iii) a shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel and that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the nontrigger hand without being burned;
“(iv) a manufactured weight of 50 ounces or more when the pistol is unloaded; and
“(v) a semiautomatic version of an automatic firearm; and
“(D) a semiautomatic shotgun that has at least 2 of—
“(i) a folding or telescoping stock;
“(ii) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
“(iii) a fixed magazine capacity in excess of 5 rounds; and
“(iv) an ability to accept a detachable magazine.”.
(3) CLERICAL AMENDMENT.—The table of sections for such chapter is amended by adding at the end the following:
“932. Licensing of firearm and ammunition possession; registration of firearms.”.
(4) DEADLINE FOR ESTABLISHMENT.—Within 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Attorney General shall prescribe final regulations to implement the amendments made by this subsection.
(b) Prohibitions; Penalties.—
(1) PROHIBITIONS.—Section 922 of such title is amended by adding at the end the following:
“(aa) It shall be unlawful for a person to possess a firearm or ammunition, unless—
“(1) the person is carrying a valid license issued under section 932(c)(1); and
“(2)(A) in the case of a firearm owned by the person, the firearm is registered to the person under section 932(b); or
“(B) in the case of a firearm owned by another person—
“(i) the firearm is so registered to such other person; and
“(ii) such other person has notified the Attorney General that the firearm has been loaned to the person, and the possession is during the loan period specified in the notice.
“(bb)(1) It shall be unlawful for a person to transfer a firearm or ammunition to a person who is not licensed under section 932(c)(1).
“(2) It shall be unlawful for a person to sell or give a firearm or ammunition to another person unless the person has notified the Attorney General of the sale or gift.
“(3) It shall be unlawful for a person to loan a firearm or ammunition to another person unless the person has notified the Attorney General of the loan, including the identity of such other person and the period for which the loan is made.
“(4) It shall be unlawful for a person holding a valid license issued under section 932(c)(1) to transfer a firearm to an individual who has not attained 18 years of age.
“(cc) A person who possesses a firearm or to whom a license is issued under section 932(c)(1) shall have in effect an insurance policy issued under section 932(d).”.
(2) PENALTIES.—Section 924(a) of such title is amended by adding at the end the following:
“(8) Whoever knowingly violates section 922(aa) shall be fined not less than $75,000 and not more than $150,000, imprisoned not less than 15 years and not more than 25 years, or both.
“(9)(A) Whoever knowingly violates section 922(bb)(1) shall be fined not less than $50,000 and not more than $75,000, imprisoned not less than 10 years and not more than 15 years, or both.
“(B) Whoever knowingly violates section 922(bb)(2) shall be fined not less than $30,000 and not more than $50,000, imprisoned not less than 5 years and not more than 10 years, or both.
“(C) Whoever knowingly violates section 922(bb)(3) shall be fined not less than $5,000 and not more than $10,000.
“(D) Whoever knowingly violates section 922(bb)(4) shall be fined not less than $75,000 and not more than $100,000, imprisoned not less than 15 years and not more than 25 years, or both, except that if the transferee of the firearm possess or uses the firearm during or in relation to a crime, an unintentional shooting, or suicide, the transferor shall be fined not less than $100,000 and not more than $150,000, imprisoned not less than 25 years and not more than 40 years, or both.
“(10) Whoever knowingly violates section 922(cc) shall be fined not less than $50,000 and not more than $100,000, imprisoned not less than 10 years and not more than 20 years, or both.”.
(3) CONFORMING AMENDMENTS.—
(A) ELIMINATION OF PROHIBITION ON ESTABLISHMENT OF CENTRALIZED FIREARM REGISTRATION SYSTEM.—Section 926(a) of such title is amended by striking the 2nd sentence.
(B) APPLICABILITY TO GOVERNMENTAL AND MILITARY FIREARMS AND AMMUNITION.—Section 925(a) of such title is amended in each of paragraphs (1) and (2), by inserting “and except for section 932,” after the 2nd comma.
(4) EFFECTIVE DATE.—The amendments made by this subsection shall take effect on the date final regulations are prescribed under subsection (a)(4).
SEC. 3. PROHIBITION ON POSSESSION OF CERTAIN AMMUNITION.
(a) In General.—Section 922 of title 18, United States Code, as amended by section 2 of this Act, is amended by adding at the end the following:
“(dd)(1) It shall be unlawful for any person to possess ammunition that is 0.50 caliber or greater.
“(2)(A) It shall be unlawful for any person to possess a large capacity ammunition feeding device.
“(B) Subparagraph (A) shall not apply to—
“(i) the manufacture for, or possession by, the United States or a department or agency of the United States or a State or a department, agency, or political subdivision of a State, or the possession by a law enforcement officer employed by such an entity for purposes of law enforcement (whether on or off duty);
“(ii) the possession by an employee or contractor of a licensee under title I of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 on-site for purposes of establishing and maintaining an on-site physical protection system and security organization required by Federal law, or off-site for purposes of licensee-authorized training or transportation of nuclear materials;
“(iii) the manufacture or possession by a licensed manufacturer or licensed importer for the purposes of testing or experimentation authorized by the Attorney General; or
“(iv) the manufacture for, or possession by, an organization that provides firearm training and that is registered with the Attorney General, or the possession by an individual to whom such an organization is providing firearm training during and at the location of the training.”.
(b) Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Defined.—Section 921(a) of such title, as amended by section 1 of this Act, is amended by inserting after paragraph (30) the following:
“(31) The term ‘large capacity ammunition feeding device’ means a magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device that has a capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition, but does not include an attached tubular device designed to accept, and capable of operating only with, .22 caliber rimfire ammunition.”.
(c) Penalties.—Section 924(a) of such title, as amended by section 2 of this Act, is amended by adding at the end the following:
“(11)(A) Whoever knowingly violates section 922(dd)(1) shall be fined not less than $50,000 and not more than $100,000, imprisoned not less than 10 years and not more than 20 years, or both.
“(B) Whoever knowingly violates section 922(dd)(2) shall be fined not less than $10,000 and not more than $25,000, imprisoned not less than 1 year and not more than 5 years, or both.”.
The Second Amendment does not bar gun control. Let’s stop pretending that it does
The Second Amendment is no obstacle to effective gun control. The issue is not about the U.S. Constitution, but about whether there is the political will to take the actions necessary to decrease gun violence.
The Second Amendment 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.” From 1791, when this was adopted, until June 2008, not one federal, state, or local law was found to violate the Second Amendment.
The Supreme Court said on several occasions that the Second Amendment means just what it says: It protects a right to have firearms for the purpose of militia service.
In District of Columbia v. Heller, in 2008, for the first and only time in American history, the Supreme Court found a law to violate the Second Amendment. The Court struck down a 35-year-old District of Columbia ordinance that prohibited the ownership or possession of handguns. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority in a 5-4 decision, said that the Second Amendment protects a right to have guns in the home for the sake of security.
But the Supreme Court was clear that the government can regulate where people have guns, such as prohibiting them near schools or airports. The government can also regulate who has guns, such as by prohibiting firearm ownership by those with criminal records or a history of serious mental illness. And the government can regulate the type of weapons that people can possess.
Therefore, there is much that Congress, and state legislatures, can do to prevent the mass shootings that have become all too common.
One possible action is for state legislatures to adopt so-called red flag laws. Such laws permit police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to self or to others. The court order also may prevent a person from purchasing guns. Seventeen states, including California and the District of Columbia, have adopted red flag laws. California adopted its law after a gunman killed six people and wounded 14 others in 2014 near the campus of the UC Santa Barbara.
Although it is unclear whether red flag laws prevent mass shootings, a number of studies have shown that they are successful in decreasing suicides. Taking guns away from those a court finds to be potentially dangerous is undoubtedly desirable.
Weapons that serve no other purpose except to kill a large number of the public in a short amount of time should be banned again. These are exactly the kind of weapons used in so many of the recent tragedies.
Likewise, large capacity magazines have been important in all of the recent mass shootings and should be banned. Universal background checks should be required for all gun purchases. The gun-show and private-sale loophole to background checks must be closed.
There is enormous popular support for gun control laws. According to one recent national poll, over 90 percent of voters are in favor of requiring criminal background checks for all guns sold in the U.S. More than 80 percent believe those convicted of domestic violence should not possess a gun and support required trigger locks for firearms. Nearly 70 percent of voters support assault rifle bans and no-fly list gun sales bans.
Yet, despite tragedy after tragedy, meaningful gun control laws are not adopted. It is an enormous failure of our democracy and our government. It shows the power of groups like the NRA.
One can only wonder, how many more people must die before politicians stop following the dictates of the NRA and adopt essential steps towards meaningful gun control.
Protecting the Second Amendment
Gun control isn’t about guns — it’s about control. And the right to bear arms isn’t about the arms — it’s about the right.
The protection of individual liberty is absolutely the job of government, but it is not exclusively the job of government. It is first and foremost the job of “we the people” — individually as local communities and collectively as a nation. Well-enforced laws can deter crime, but even the best police and prosecutors in the world can not eliminate crime.
Therefore, the first defense against criminal threats to our persons and property is ourselves. That’s why we have a right — a right granted by God and protected by the Constitution — to arm and protect ourselves.
brennancenter.org, “How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment,” By Michael Waldman; bradyunited.org, “THE TRUTH ABOUT SUICIDE AND GUNS,” pbs.org, “How Conservatives “Reinvented” the Second Amendment,” By Azmat Khan; sacbee.com, “The Second Amendment does not bar gun control. Let’s stop pretending that it does,” By Erwin Chemerinsky; lee.senate.gov, ” Protecting the Second Amendment,” By Mike Lee; independent.org, ” Gun Control;” history.com, “Second Amendment,” By History.com editors; constitutioncenter.org, ” The Second Amendment, ” By Nelson Lund and Adam Winkler;
THE TRUTH ABOUT SUICIDE AND GUNS
In 2017, over 2 million people called the same 1-800
number. They weren’t calling a customer service
line, law enforcement, or the fire department.1
Instead, these 2 million callers dialed the National
Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which offers free,
around-the-clock access to trained counselors who
provide emotional support and resources to people
contemplating suicide. Many of the callers were
experiencing suicidal thoughts or had attempted
to end their lives in the past. Some struggle with
diagnosed mental illnesses like clinical depression,
anxiety, or mood disorders. But many do not. Many
people in crisis—and the majority of those who go
on to die by suicide—do not suffer from mental
They are average Americans—men and
women, young and old, veterans and civilians, of all
races, religions, sexual, and gender identities. Many
of the callers were enduring extremely stressful
situations like the loss of a loved one, a job, or a
home, addiction to substances, being deployed, or
returning from combat, and didn’t know where to
turn. For those who can access mental health care or
reach out to a hotline like the Lifeline, their story can
have a happy ending. But in the United States, where
41 percent of the population owns a gun or lives in a
home with one,
the story too often ends in tragedy.
In 2016, almost 23,000 people used a gun to end
Despite a trend of decreasing firearm
suicides into the 21st century, the rate of firearm
suicide has climbed nearly every single year since
The firearms suicide rate is currently twice
the rate of suicides caused by suffocation, three
times those resulting from poisoning, and twenty
times higher than intentional falling deaths.
Suicide in America will continue to worsen as long
as people in crisis continue to have easy access
to highly lethal means like firearms. Only when
we implement policies and change social norms
that recognize this reality will America prevent
the most prevalent form of gun violence in our
nation: suicide. There are ways to prevent gun
suicides. These deaths are not inevitable, nor is this
continual increase a predetermined one. There are
a plethora of strategies that have already proven
effective at preventing suicides. More widespread
implementation of these strategies across the United
States can help reduce gun suicides and save lives.
THE LINK BETWEEN SUICIDE & GUNS
Guns make up the highest percentage of fatal
suicide attempts. Why is that? Because the act of
suicide is frequently an impulsive one and guns
are a staggeringly lethal means. The impulsivity is
clear—attempts of suicide by gun result in death
85 percent of the time, compared to just 3 percent
for other common methods like a drug overdose.
What isn’t well understood, however, is that for
those who attempt suicide and survive, the vast
majority go on to live long lives, eventually dying of
natural causes. The presence of a gun turns what
is an impulsive act that is not frequently repeated
if the person survives into an almost always fatal
act. Suicidal victims who choose a firearm over
methods like a drug overdose, suffocation, or
cutting typically do not have the opportunity or
ability to summon help or reconsider in the midst
of an attempt.
By temporarily removing firearms or making them
more difficult to access for individuals in the midst
of crisis, people attempting suicide will more
frequently survive and get a second chance at
life. That second chance is critical because the
vast majority—about 90 percent—of people who
attempt suicide and survive do not go on to die by
suicide. A full 70 percent never make another
attempt on their life.
When the decision to attempt suicide is made, it
is frequently impulsive. For survivors, it is often
immediately regretted. Anecdotal evidence and
COMMUNITIES UNIQUELY IMPACTED
BY FIREARMS SUICIDE
The epidemic of gun suicide in our nation is a public
health crisis that deserves public health solutions.
In the United States, the gun suicide epidemic
is primarily driven by older white men. Men of all
ages comprise over 85 percent of firearm suicide
victims, and men over 40 make up 57 percent
of them. Additionally, men’s access to firearms
far outpaces that of women: men are three times
more likely to own a firearm compared to their
female counterparts, and about 50 percent of men
report living in a gun-owning household. It’s not
surprising given the unique lethality of firearms
that as long as 61 percent of gun owners are men,
they will continue to make up a large percentage
of firearm suicide victims as well. Women, while
actually more likely to attempt suicide, do so far
less frequently with firearms, thus more women
survive suicide attempts.
MILITARY MEMBERS & VETERANS
When veterans return from active-duty service,
they must acclimate to civilian life. In this
process, many face difficulties accessing
necessary services, including mental healthcare.
VETERANS OF BOTH GENDERS ARE FAR MORE LIKELY TO TAKE THEIR
OWN LIVES IN SUICIDE THAN THEIR CIVILIAN COUNTERPARTS.
Due to this difficulty, many suffer from
undiagnosed and untreated depression, anxiety,
or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The
veterans suicide crisis in this country has reached
a new high: about veterans die by suicide
every day in the United States. Since 2001,
veterans’ suicide rates have risen by more than
one-third. In fact, veterans of both genders are
far more likely to take their own lives in suicide
than their civilian counterparts; for women, that
difference is particularly stark. Female veterans
are 250 percent more likely to die by suicide, and
their male colleagues are 18 percent more likely
to take their own lives, than the average female or
male civilian, respectively. Additionally, women
veterans are less likely to have their mental health
care needs met by veterans affairs services, and
less than half of those that received care felt that
their needs were well met. While the Department
of Veterans’ Affairs has made access to
comprehensive mental health care a priority, there
is still a gap in treating some of the unique needs
met by female veterans, especially with regards to
access to firearms. Caitlin Thompson, the VA’s
Deputy Director for Suicide Prevention notes that
“female veterans are comfortable with firearms—
it’s part of their culture,” and that service
providers are often more hesitant to ask female
patients about guns than their male counterparts.
Talking about guns needs to be included as part of
a holistic approach to veteran care.
Veterans have unique experience with guns that
is often ingrained in their identity, and many still
have access to guns. Their rates of gun ownership
are considerably higher than the general
population—about half of veterans self-report as
being gun owners—and among combat veterans,
that number is as high as 75 percent. It is no
surprise, unfortunately, that approximately two
thirds of veterans who end their lives do so with a
firearm. Veterans also frequently have unlocked
and loaded guns in their homes, giving ready
access to guns during periods of crisis or mental
health struggles. The discussion of access to
healthcare for veterans, therefore, should include
a specific focus on the outsized role that firearms
play in this community, and how to prevent a gun,
used in service for our country, being used to end
the life of that veteran by suicide.
CHILDREN & TEENS
Children and teens are uniquely vulnerable to many
forms of gun violence, and suicide is no exception.
Suicide rates have spiked in nearly every age
category since 2000, but the category that has
seen the most drastic increase is among girls aged
10 to 14, who are now more than twice as likely to
kill themselves than they were 15 years ago. In
2016, 867 youths under 18 died by gun suicide—
that breaks down to more than two children a day
ending their lives with a gun. About half of those
victims were under the age of 16. There’s a reason
adults recount their adolescent years reluctantly
and with cringes—everyone remembers how the
fight with a friend, a breakup with a first love, or
a bad grade on your test could trigger a full-scale
emotional melt down. Easy access to guns for this
subpopulation is a driver of these suicide rates.
In a country where 4.6 million children live in a
homes with an unlocked, loaded gun, many are
able to easily access firearms in times of crisis.
In a study of youth gun suicides, over two-thirds
took their lives in their own home, and over half
used a firearm owned by a family member.
Guns should always be stored securely locked,
and separate from their ammunition to prevent
children and teens from accessing and using them
in the depths of despair.
IN A COUNTRY WHERE 4.6 MILLION CHILDREN LIVE IN A HOMES
WITH AN UNLOCKED, LOADED GUN, MANY ARE ABLE TO EASILY
ACCESS FIREARMS IN TIMES OF CRISIS.
POLICY SOLUTIONS TO PREVENT
OUR GUN SUICIDE EPIDEMIC
STRONG GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION
LAWS: HOW DO THEY REDUCE SUICIDE
Due to their unique lethality, reducing access
to firearms to individuals in periods of crisis is
a critical part of the solution. One study found
that the 5 states with the lowest rates for suicide
among white men (the highest population affected
by gun suicide) also had the lowest rate of gun
ownership. These states—Massachusetts, New
York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Connecticut—
rank among those with the strongest gun laws, year
While approximately half of those who die by
suicide each year do not have a diagnosed mental
illness, it remains critically important that states
enter mental health records into both the state and
federal background check systems to ensure that
those who may be at risk of harming themselves
with a gun do not have ready access. New York
and New Jersey are two states that do this well. As
of December 2017, the two states combined had
entered nearly one million mental health records
into the NICS system. These steps may be able
to prevent those individuals from purchasing or
possessing guns that may be used to take their own
lives. That stands in stark comparison to states
like Wyoming and Montana, that have entered only
7 and 36 mental health records, respectively.
States with similar populations have entered far
WAITING PERIODS: DELAYING FIREARM
PURCHASE CAN SAVE LIVES OF THOSE
Strong gun laws don’t end at background checks.
Laws most effective at preventing suicide get to the
heart of firearm suicide fatalities—creating time
between the idea and the implementation. A recent
look at the risks of guns in the home clearly shows
that no matter what age, an easily accessible firearm
within the home increases the odds that it will be
used in a suicide or attempt. In fact, risk of suicide
increases by three times when a firearm is present.
These are two key ways to get a person in crisis
the help they need before they make a life-ending
decision, and there are laws that can help. The first
THE NRA CONTINUES TO CLAIM THAT “STUDIES ON WAITING
PERIOD LAWS HAVE FAILED TO SHOW ANY EFFECT ON REDUCING
CRIME OR SUICIDE RATES.”
is known as a gun “waiting period” and has been
shown to be effective in reducing both homicide
and suicide rates in the states with these laws.
Waiting periods create a time period between the
start of a firearm purchase and the transfer of
that firearm to the purchaser. This is critical in the
case of both “heat of the moment” homicides or
domestic violence incidents, as well as suicides.
Since the vast majority of individuals who decide
to attempt suicide put that plan into motion in less
than an hour, these laws create a life-saving gap
by which the individual can reach out for help or
reconsider their decision.
States with waiting periods have consistently shown
reduction in both overall and firearms suicide rates
compared to states without waiting periods. A
recent analysis found that any time delay between
the purchase and transfer of firearm reduced
gun suicides between two and five percent, and
those people did not substitute another method
of suicide—they simply lived. One of the study’s
authors said “if these states [that don’t currently
have a law of this type] were to adopt one handgun
purchase delay policy, an estimated 600 lives per
year could be saved.” (A “handgun purchase
delay” in this study is another word for a mandatory
waiting period). This study only evaluated handgun
policies, meaning that if these laws were expanded
to all guns, even more lives could be saved. While
only 4 states and the District of Columbia currently
have a waiting period for all firearms, 5 more require
a waiting period for handguns, and Minnesota
requires one for assault weapons, as well.
Despite a plethora of research and evidence
that clearly shows how waiting periods reduce
gun violence, and particularly suicide, the NRA
continues to claim that “studies on waiting period
laws have failed to show any effect on reducing
crime or suicide rates.” Despite the gun lobby’s
lack of recognition of the effectiveness of these
laws, these policies have broad support from
gun-owning households: a whopping 97 percent
of support expanding background checks, and
77 percent support enacting a federal mandatory
waiting period for all gun purchases.
EXTREME RISK LAWS: A PATH
FORWARD FOR POLICY MAKERS AND
“Extreme Risk” laws have taken center stage in
the fight for sensible gun laws in the post-Parkland
era as a way to prevent massacres like the one
that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High
School on Valentine’s Day. These laws enable law
enforcement, family members, dating partners,
and sometimes others to go before a judge with
evidence that an individual in crisis is exhibiting
dangerous behavior and may try to harm him or
herself or others with a gun. The at-risk person is
allowed an opportunity to be heard and present
other evidence before the judge in a civil (not
criminal) hearing. The judge is allowed to take other
factors into consideration depending on the state.
These frequently include things like dangerous past
behavior with guns, substance abuse, and recent
firearms or ammunition acquisition.
These laws are specifically crafted to focus on
factors of dangerousness or crisis that typically
lead to gun violence while avoiding stigmatizing
those suffering from mental illness without
indicators of dangerousness. If a judge issues an
order, the at-risk individual must surrender any
firearms or ammunition in his or her possession to
law enforcement (or in some cases, a neutral third
party) and will be prevented from purchasing a
new gun during the pendency of the order. These
orders are not permanent—some last for a period of
weeks, and can be renewed on a yearly basis if the
court finds that it is warranted based on the facts.
There are currently 13 states with this type of law,
and they vary widely. Connecticut and Indiana,
the first two states to pass such laws, have reaped
the benefits of their early versions of extreme
risk laws. In Connecticut, a 1999 law enables law
enforcement to conduct an investigation and then
make a request from a judge to remove and keep
firearms in dangerous situations. This law was not
widely used in its first eight years, but after the
massacre by a mentally ill man at Virginia Tech
in 2007, its use spiked. A similar law, passed
by Indiana in 2005, is much more limited than
Connecticut’s. Law enforcement is allowed to seize
firearms without warrants, but only in specific
cases where the officer believes the individual has
a mental illness and is dangerous to themselves
or others. There has been a spate of these laws
passed in recent years—led by California, whose
law went into effect in 2016—and rounded out by
states like Florida, Maryland, Illinois, New Jersey,
Delaware, Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode
Island whose laws are slowly going into effect over
the course of the 2018.
These laws hold the possibility of reducing high
profile mass shootings and other homicides.
Studies have already shown that they make
a difference in gun suicide prevention. In
Connecticut and Indiana, these laws have greatly
impacted firearm suicides. One study found that in
the decade after enacting their extreme risk law,
Indiana showed a 7.5 percent decrease in firearm
suicides, resulting in a possible 383 gun suicides
being prevented. While Connecticut had an
implementation lag after passage of the law, it,
too, saw a 13.7 percent drop in firearm suicides
from 2007 through 2015. Another look at
Connecticut’s law from moment of implementation
determined that a life was saved for every 10-11
issued orders. Not only were guns being removed
from those who were most at-risk, but those
individuals were actually accessing treatment—44
percent of orders led to individuals receiving
psychiatric treatment that they may never have
received otherwise. While many of these laws are
new, Connecticut and Indiana’s proven successes
have paved a way for a meaningful new way to
activate family, friends, and law enforcement to
help those they know in crisis to receive assistance
and treatment instead of becoming another
We know that suicide is not a uniquely American
problem—in fact, our nation currently ranks 9th in
comparison to other similar high-income countries
in overall per capita suicide rates. However,
America is the leader in suicide by firearm. In
fact, Americans are eight times more likely to die
as a result of a firearm suicide than peers in other
developed countries. But Americans are no more
likely to have mental illnesses, substance abuse
disorders, or experience periods of crises than
citizens of any other nation. Finland, the developed
country closest to the U.S. in gun suicide rates only
experiences half of the gun suicides we do, and
South Korea, the developed nation with the highest
suicide rate overall, has a nearly non-existent
firearms suicide rate.
While guns are not the only method by which
an individual in crisis can choose to end his or
her life, they are far and away the most lethal.
When comparing the firearm suicide rate of the
United States, Finland, and South Korea, a large
contributing factor to the abnormally high number
of firearm suicide rates at home is driven by easy,
quick access to guns by the majority of the U.S.
population. We must address the gap in our laws
that allow too many Americans to use firearms to
take their lives. Delaying access to firearms—or
preventing access altogether for those in crisis—
can and will save lives. At the state level, strategies
to delay or prevent access to firearms are being
enacted to reduce suicide rates.
By strengthening the Brady background check
system, enacting purchase delay methods, and
passing and properly implementing extreme risk
laws, Americans will have the opportunity to
survive and thrive.
AMERICANS ARE EIGHT TIMES MORE LIKELY TO DIE AS A RESULT OF
A FIREARM SUICIDE THAN PEERS IN OTHER DEVELOPED COUNTRIES.
The Second Amendment, often referred to as the right to bear arms, is one of 10 amendments that form the Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791 by the U.S. Congress. Differing interpretations of the amendment have fueled a long-running debate over gun control legislation and the rights of individual citizens to buy, own and carry firearms.
Right to Bear Arms
The text of the Second Amendment reads in full: “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.” The framers of the Bill of Rights adapted the wording of the amendment from nearly identical clauses in some of the original 13 state constitutions.
During the Revolutionary War era, “militia” referred to groups of men who banded together to protect their communities, towns, colonies and eventually states, once the United States declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776.
Many people in America at the time believed governments used soldiers to oppress the people, and thought the federal government should only be allowed to raise armies (with full-time, paid soldiers) when facing foreign adversaries. For all other purposes, they believed, it should turn to part-time militias, or ordinary civilians using their own weapons.
But as militias had proved insufficient against the British, the Constitutional Convention gave the new federal government the power to establish a standing army, even in peacetime.
However, opponents of a strong central government (known as Anti-Federalists) argued that this federal army deprived states of their ability to defend themselves against oppression. They feared that Congress might abuse its constitutional power of “organizing, arming and disciplining the Militia” by failing to keep militiamen equipped with adequate arms.
So, shortly after the U.S. Constitution was officially ratified, James Madison proposed the Second Amendment as a way to empower these state militias. While the Second Amendment did not answer the broader Anti-Federalist concern that the federal government had too much power, it did establish the principle (held by both Federalists and their opponents) that the government did not have the authority to disarm citizens.
Practically since its ratification, Americans have debated the meaning of the Second Amendment, with vehement arguments being made on both sides.
The crux of the debate is whether the amendment protects the right of private individuals to keep and bear arms, or whether it instead protects a collective right that should be exercised only through formal militia units.
Those who argue it is a collective right point to the “well-regulated Militia” clause in the Second Amendment. They argue that the right to bear arms should be given only to organized groups, like the National Guard, a reserve military force that replaced the state militias after the Civil War.
On the other side are those who argue that the Second Amendment gives all citizens, not just militias, the right to own guns in order to protect themselves. The National Rifle Association (NRA), founded in 1871, and its supporters have been the most visible proponents of this argument, and have pursued a vigorous campaign against gun control measures at the local, state and federal levels.
Those who support stricter gun control legislation have argued that limits are necessary on gun ownership, including who can own them, where they can be carried and what type of guns should be available for purchase.
Congress passed one of the most high-profile federal gun control efforts, the so-called Brady Bill, in the 1990s, largely thanks to the efforts of former White House Press Secretary James S. Brady, who had been shot in the head during an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
District of Columbia v. Heller
Since the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which mandated background checks for gun purchases from licensed dealers, the debate on gun control has changed dramatically.
This is partially due to the actions of the Supreme Court, which departed from its past stance on the Second Amendment with its verdicts in two major cases, District ofColumbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010).
For a long time, the federal judiciary held the opinion that the Second Amendment remained among the few provisions of the Bill of Rights that did not fall under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which would thereby apply its limitations to state governments. For example, in the 1886 case Presser v. Illinois, the Court held that the Second Amendment applied only to the federal government, and did not prohibit state governments from regulating an individual’s ownership or use of guns.
But in its 5-4 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which invalidated a federal law barring nearly all civilians from possessing guns in the District of Columbia, the Supreme Court extended Second Amendment protection to individuals in federal (non-state) enclaves.
Writing the majority decision in that case, Justice Antonin Scalia lent the Court’s weight to the idea that the Second Amendment protects the right of individual private gun ownership for self-defense purposes.
McDonald v. Chicago
Two years later, in McDonald v. Chicago, the Supreme Court struck down (also in a 5-4 decision) a similar citywide handgun ban, ruling that the Second Amendment applies to the states as well as to the federal government.
In the majority ruling in that case, Justice Samuel Alito wrote: “Self-defense is a basic right, recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present day, and in Heller, we held that individual self-defense is ‘the central component’ of the Second Amendment right.”
Gun Control Debate
The Supreme Court’s narrow rulings in the Heller and McDonald cases left open many key issues in the gun control debate.
In the Heller decision, the Court suggested a list of “presumptively lawful” regulations, including bans on possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill; bans on carrying arms in schools and government buildings; restrictions on gun sales; bans on the concealed carrying of weapons; and generally bans on weapons “not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”
Since that verdict, as lower courts battle back and forth on cases involving such restrictions, the public debate over Second Amendment rights and gun control remains very much open, even as mass shootings became an increasingly frequent occurrence in American life.
To take just three examples, the Columbine Shooting, where two teens killed thirteen people at Columbine High School, prompted a national gun control debate. The Sandy Hook shooting of 20 children and six staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 led President Barack Obama and many others to call for tighter background checks and a renewed ban on assault weapons.
And in 2017, the mass shooting of 58 people attending a country music concert in Las Vegas (to date the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, overtaking the 2016 attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida) inspired calls to restrict sales of “bump stocks,” attachments that enable semiautomatic weapons to fire faster.
On the other side of the ongoing debate of gun control measures are the NRA and other gun rights supporters, powerful and vocal groups that views such restrictions as an unacceptable violation of their Second Amendment rights.
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