The gun control issue in the United States is a highly contentious one (see gun politics). The right to own a weapon is enshrined in the United States Constitution, in the Second Amendment

In some cases, no term for an element of a highly contentious issue exists that is considered fully neutral by both sides. In these cases, the most neutral term is used.

The term "gun control" refers to attempts by society (generally by government or "the State") to limit the possession, production, importation, shipment, sale, and/or use of "guns" -- in this context, generally personal firearms: handguns and long guns. Weapons normally produced and intended for military and paramilitary (e.g. SWAT team) use, such as fully-automatic weapons, are especially contentious.

Table of contents
1 Gun control laws
2 Debate
3 See also
4 External links

Gun control laws

United States

Fully automatic weapons have been restricted in the United States since the National Firearms Act of 1934. Private owners must obtain permission from the US Treasury Dept, pass an extensive background check, fully register the firearm and continually update the owner's address and location of the firearm and pay a $200 transfer tax. Some states require state permission as well. Otherwise, they are available only to police or military personnel.

There are only a few hundred thousand lawfully owned fully automatic weaponss. The bulk of these are owned and used in the motion picture industry.

The Clinton administration BATF study of illegal firearms in the black market estimated that as many as 4 million illegal fully automatic firearms had either been illegally smuggled into the USA or illegally constructed within the USA. No new legal full-autos have been manufactured for the civilian population since 1986, causing the economic rules of supply and demand to drive the prices of existing automatic weapons well above the cost of manufacturing and distributing them. See also: Assault weapons ban (USA).

In the U.S., the major federal gun control legislation is the 1968 Gun Control Act, passed shortly after the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King. The act required that guns carry serial numbers and implemented a tracking system to determine the purchaser of a gun whose make, model, and serial number are known. It also prohibited gun ownership by convicted felons and certain other individuals. The Act was updated in the 1990s, mainly to add a mechanism for the criminal history of gun purchasers to be checked at the point of sale.

A patchwork of laws exists at state and local levels, with the state of Illinois, Washington, DC, and the city of New York having among the more restrictive limits; New York's Sullivan Act was passed in 1911. Many states implemented criminal background checks or "waiting periods" for handgun (pistol and revolver) purchasers in response to the gun control lobby in the 1980s. More recent lobbying efforts have resulted in the passage of laws making it a crime to leave guns in locations accessible to children.

Recent changes in the political landscape have brought about legislative initiatives to make it legal for common citizens to carry concealed guns with them for defense. Most states have various requirements for training and licensing for concealed carry. The notable exception is Vermont, which has never had any such restrictions in its history. In 1987, Florida became the first state to liberalize its concealed carry regulations, making it possible for almost any law-abiding citizen to obtain a permit to carry. Many other states have followed, for a total of 36 states having such laws on the books as of September 2003.

Like Vermont, Alaska has no requirement for a license or permit for any lawful gun owner to carry concealed handguns in public. However, unlike Vermont, Alaska has issued such permits to its residents in the past, and continues to issue new permits. There are two reasons for this. First, several other states honor Alaska's permits, while no state recognizes the concealed carry rights of non-residents without permits, even if carry without a permit is allowed in the person's home state. Second, Alaska's permit meets the federal criteria to exempt its holders from federal background checks to purchase firearms.

The status of these laws in the USA has changed dramatically since 1986, as seen below:

1986 -  8 shall-issue states, 20 may-issue, 21 no-issue, 1 unrestricted.
2003 - 36 shall-issue states, 7 may-issue, 5 no-issue, 2 unrestricted.


Self Defense

Both sides actively debate the relevance of self-defense in modern society. Some scholars, such as John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, claim to have discovered a positive correlation between gun control legislation and crimes in which criminals victimize law-abiding citizens. Lott asserts that criminals ignore gun control laws, and are effectively deterred by armed intended victims.

Advocates of gun control, however, assert that because criminals obtain guns by stealing them from law-abiding gun owners, restricting their availability would decrease supply to the criminal element.

Advocates of rights to gun ownership (gun rights) counter that since law abiding gun owners vastly outnumber the criminals who steal guns, the only way to eliminate this avenue of criminal gun ownership is to fully disarm all law abiding gun owners. Even then, just as with illegal drugs and illegal full-autos, the criminals would continue to smuggle guns into the USA from other nations. The Scotland Yard report on the illegal importation of firearms into the U.K., following the near total gun ban in that nation, is cited as an example of what happens when firearms are banned for law abiding citizens. The USA experience with Alcohol Prohibition and the current "War on Drugs" being other prime examples cited by gun rights advocates.

Non-defensive uses of guns, such as hunting, varmint control and the sport of target shooting, are often lost in the debate despite being the most common reasons for private gun ownership.

Despite the fact that no links to liberalized concealed-carry laws and increasing rates of crime have been demonstrated, these laws are still highly contentious. However, no state has seen cause to outlaw Concealed Carry again.

The numbers of lives saved or lost by gun ownership are hotly debated. Problems include the difficulty of accounting accurately for confrontations in which no shots are fired, and jurisdictional differences in the definition of "crime". For example, some have argued that American statistics tend to over-count violent crimes, while English statistics tend to under-count them.

Proponents of gun control frequently argue that carrying a concealed pistol would be of no practical use for personal self-defense. Proponents of gun rights argue that in the US, there are up to 2.5 million incidents per year in which a lawfully-armed citizen averts a crime by confronting a would-be attacker with a loaded gun. Those who advance these statistics point out that the deterrent effect would disproportionately benefit women, who are often targets of violent crime.


Gun control advocates insist that personal guns are an avoidable source of domestic accidents. The number of domestic accidents involving guns is hotly debated, however. For example, a commonly cited statistic concerning "child gun deaths" includes fatalities of individuals up to 25 years of age, including gang members and armed criminals. The American National Safety Council reports that there were 214 unintentional firearms-related deaths among Americans aged 0-19 in 1999, and a further 83 deaths where the intention could not be determined.

Security against tyranny and invasion

Another position taken by gun rights advocates is that an armed citizenry is the population's last line of defense against tyranny by their own government. They point out that many soldiers in the American Revolution were ordinary citizens using their privately owned firearms. Gun control advocates answer that it is unrealistic to suppose that private citizens could oppose a government which controls the full power of the US Armed Forces, were it to become tyrannical. Also, it is claimed that the people's power to replace elected officials by voting is sufficient to keep the government in check.

Indeed, there may be a historical regularity in that totalitarian regimes pass gun control legislation as a first step of their reign of terror. The sequence is supposed to be gun registration, followed some time later by confiscation. Nazi legislation is the most famous example of this sequence, but it also occurred in Marxist regimes.

However, this does not indicate that gun controls inevitably lead to totalitarianism. Gun control advocates point out that countries such as the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia have strict controls on gun ownership with democratic systems of government and low crime rates.

Invasion by hostile outside forces is another reason gun rights advocates oppose registration. If captured, the associated records would provide invaders with a means of locating and eliminating law-abiding resistance fighters. Location and capture of such records is a standard doctrine taught to military intelligence officers. Registration aside, gun rights advocates point out that an armed citizenry is a strong deterrent against a foreign invasion.

The Second Amendment

In the U.S., some of the controversy surrounding this issue is based on interpretation of the Second Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, which (according to gun control advocates) protects the "right to keep and bear arms" only as it relates to "a well-regulated militia," and (according to gun rights advocates) is an absolute guarantee of the individual right to keep and bear arms.

Positions in the Debate

In fact there are many positions, including those who wish to regulate guns without banning them.

Various terms have been used to describe each side, ranging from positive to neutral to (deliberately?) uncomplimentary:

On December 1, 2003 the United States Supreme Court refused to hear a Second Amendment challenge to California's Assault Weapons Ban. The High Court's action leaves undisturbed an earlier ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in Silveira v. Lockyer, upholding the California statute.

See also

External links