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Gun Control: Political Connections Essay, Research Paper
02 November 1996
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.
Amendment II, Bill of Rights
Constitution of the U.S.
The Second Amendment has been a major issue in American politics since
1876. In question is the intent of this Amendment. Was it meant to insure that
people in general have arms for personal service, or was it intended to insure
arms for military service? The nation’s powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle
Association, holds that it means the right to keep and bear arms -any arms.
This privileged right is given to those 60-65 million people who choose to own
guns. The NRA also believes that human character defects cannot be changed by a
simple regulation of guns. They argue that problems with firearm ownership
cannot be, in any way, associated with criminal violence. The lobbyist give
credibility to this statement by adding that criminal violence continues to
increase in cities like New York and Washington DC, even though gun control
statutes were put into affect. They point out that gun laws would not have
stopped most addicted killers. According to the NRA, anti-crime measures are
the way to conquer urban violence, not anti-gun measures. The hope of most
members in the association is to educate people about guns. The association is
willing to reveal proper usage of guns to non-gun owners. They feel that this
training could help reduce some of the tragedies involving guns.
The issue of gun control has become a dividing line in America. To gun
control activists, the issue is about crime and the regulation of the weapons
used to commit these crimes. In their opinion, law abiding citizens should have
no need for guns. In this respect, the big controversy seems shallow . However,
to the NRA population, a much deeper issue is in question, the issue is freedom.
The members believe that the Second Amendment is crucial to the maintenance’s of
the democratic process. From their point of view, people who advocate gun
control are ready to disregard a constitutional right. They believe that, if
the Second Amendment is abridged, the First Amendment will be the next to go.
The Executive Branch of the Federal Government is in a high-profile
position on the issue of gun control. During this current Presidential election
season, much rhetoric is being exchanged on the issue. It would almost appear
that one must play to either camp in order to receive the desired endorsement of
the strong political lobby groups. In the case of Bob Dole, the Republican
Presidential candidate, his platform on gun control at times are contradictory,
but his pattern of voting on gun-related issues in the senate seem to follow the
characteristic Republican-NRA view on gun control.
President Clinton takes a very different stand on gun control. His
current re-election platform calls for further restrictions on guns and on
people who buy guns. This characteristic “Democrat” attitude on gun control
closely follows the view of Handgun Control, Inc., a political lobby group
dedicated to governmental control and regulation of guns in the United States.
Gun control and drug control are usually associated with opposite ends of the
political spectrum. Presidents Reagan and Bush were eager to pursue the war on
drugs but generally wary of gun control. However, President Clinton has made
gun control a major goal, while his drug strategy is almost invisible.
During President Clinton’s administration, the Brady Bill on gun control
was passed. This bill was gridlocked in the House for seven years. The Brady
Bill (named for James Brady, press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, who was
seriously injured when he was shot during a 1981 assassination attempt against
Reagan) was signed by President Clinton, on November 30, 1993, and took effect
in March 1994. This measure imposes a 5-day waiting period for the purchase of
handguns and provides for the creation of a national computer network to check
the backgrounds of gun buyers. The Clinton Administration was also able to pass
an assault-style firearms bill that banned the sale and distribution of certain
types of automatic weapons. The ban, part of a 1994 crime bill, took effect
just months before Republicans gained control of Congress.
During the past year, President Clinton’s Administration pushed to get a
terrorism bill passed and signed into law. During the whole fight, the
President and his allies insinuated more than once that opponents of the bill
were weak on crime. Gun laws tend to be passed in an atmosphere of hysteria
that discourages critical reflection. The Gun Control Act of 1968 was approved
soon after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
In fact, on the very day that Kennedy died, President Johnson issued an
emotional appeal to Congress demanding passage of a federal gun-control law.
Two dramatic incidents had helped create a sense of crisis, which Johnson used
to his advantage.
President Clinton tried to do something similar after last December’s
shootings on the Long Island Railroad. Indeed, supporters of gun control are
usually quick to seize upon sensational acts of violence to justify more
regulation. The attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981 ultimately
gave us the Brady law, and the Stockton massacre generated assault weapon
legislation throughout the country.
According to The Washington Post, the President is now quietly working
to repeal certain parts of the terror bill which are clearly unconstitutional.
The immigration reform bill (S. 1664), which is now in a conference committee,
will be the chosen vehicle for undoing some of the unconstitutional points in
the terror bill. The Clinton administration, however, has proven to take a hard
stand for tougher gun restriction laws, and if reelected will push harder for
more gun control laws.
The President of the United States is responsible for enforcing the
legislation passed by Congress and to enforce the rulings of the Supreme Court.
The President is the gatekeeper in the area of National Agendas. The outcome of
the Presidential Election this November 5th will determine Administrative
agenda and policy on crime, guns, and gun-control into the twenty-first century.
The Legislative branch of the government controls the enactment of laws
and the legislative process. While the president may be in charge of national
agendas, it is ultimately up to congress to pass bills into law. When Clinton
first came into office, Congress was dominated by the Democrat Party. As
mentioned earlier, Clinton was able to get the Brady Bill signed into law, as
well as get the ban on assault weapons passed through Congress before the
majority of the House shifted to favor the Republicans.
Laws passed in the States of Florida and Texas have gone in the opposite
direction. The Right to Carry Laws, were designed to reduce violent crime by
making personal weapons an equalizer between violent criminals and potential
victims. The Fort Worth Star Telegram recently reported that the fears raised
about those laws had been proven unfounded, that the feared “Bloodbath” had not
come, and never would. And according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, in
those states that had passed Right To Carry laws, Violent Crime had been reduced.
After the Congressional shift took place, the president found it tougher
to have his political agenda on gun control carried out. Instead, the
Republican congress attempted to reverse some of the laws passed by the previous
session of Congress. In March of this year, House Republican leaders,
fulfilling a longtime promise to the National Rifle Association, voted to repeal
the ban on assault-style firearms.
Representative Charles Schumer, chief author of the 1994 legislation
(that banned the weapons), described the expedited scheduling of the vote,
announced by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, as “a sneak attack”. The measure
had not even been scheduled for action by the Rules Committee, which must act
before a bill goes to the floor. The ban, part of the 1994 crime bill, took
effect just months before Republicans gained control of Congress despite active
lobbying against it by the NRA. Overturning it has been the association’s top
The House of Representatives voted to repeal the ban on 19 types of
semiautomatic weapons, but President Clinton said he would veto the legislation
if it gets to his desk. The vote came on a bill to remove the ban on weapons
like the AK-47 and the Uzi from the 1994 crime bill that passed when Democrats
controlled Congress. The final vote was 239-173. “It is an outrage for the
Congress to vote to repeal the assault weapon ban. It’s an IOU to the National
Rifle Association,” Vice President Al Gore said at a news briefing. Supporters
of the bill said the ban was ineffective and violated the constitutional right
of Americans to own guns. Clinton had denounced the bill earlier, saying, “I
believe it would be deeply wrong for Congress to repeal this assault weapon ban.
It doesn’t need to be voted on in the House or the Senate and if it is passed, I
will veto it.”
Several House Republican freshmen have been pressuring leaders for the
repeal, which they promised during their 1994 campaigns that created the House’s
first Republican majority in 40 years. “Promises made. Promises kept,” Armey
said. The majority leader’s spokeswoman, Michele Davis, added later: “House
Republican leaders are fulfilling a promise made in January of 1995 to
Republican and Democratic members who asked for and were told they would get a
vote on repeal sometime in this Congress.” Representative John Conyers of
Michigan, the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, was furious. “The NRA must
consider the Republican Congress the gift that keeps on giving,” Conyers said.
“Last week, the Republicans destroyed the anti-terrorism bill because the NRA
didn’t like it, and now they want Uzis and AK-47s back in mass production.”
Both House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who
clinched the GOP nomination for president Tuesday, promised last year to put
repeal to a vote.
The terror bombing of Oklahoma City’s federal building and the stalemate with
the Clinton administration over the federal budget helped keep the measure off
both chambers’ schedules. On March 22, 1996 the bipartisan House voted to
repeal the Clinton gun ban and get tough with armed criminals was achieved
despite efforts by Administration allies who resorted to personal attacks.
“What we are going to have is a partnership of strengthening laws
against the criminal misuse of firearms, which everyone agrees is
the real problem issue, and eliminating harassment of law-abiding
gun owners who are not the problem.”
–House Speaker Newt Gingrich
183 Republicans and 56 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives backed up
those words when they voted to repeal the 1994 Clinton gun and magazine ban.
Last year, Bernie Ward, a prominent Radio Talk Show host on KGO radio
out of San Francisco said “The Supreme Court has yet to strike down any law
affecting gun control” and he is right. The Supreme Court has not heard a case
involving gun control since 1934. In that case… a man was to defend his right
to possess a sawed off shotgun. The ruling was such that, since he could not
prove that the shotgun was standard military equipment, he had no right to
possess it. Therefore, had it been military equipment, he had the right to own
the weapon. Sawed off shotguns are banned in the United States as a result.
The same thinking went into the “Ban” of fully automatic fire arms, such
as the Tompson Sub Machine Gun, which was popular with organized crime during
the ’20s and ’30s. Lawmakers did not “ban” the weapon, so much as control it by
making it a requirement to register and obtain a license to own one. As a
result, sales of the Tommy Gun dropped to nothing until World War II when the
weapon was used extensively by US forces, and those of other nations. Had the
weapon been “banned,” the Supreme Court would undoubtedly have overturned the
law. The myth that the sub machine gun was banned, however, has persisted.
In April, 1995 the Supreme Court ruled that gun possession at school was
not a federal offense, (U.S. v Lopez, No. 93-1260, April 26, 1995). In this
landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that Congress overstepped its
constitutional authority to intervene in local affairs when it enacted the 1990
Gun Free School Zone, a federal law banning possession of a gun within a 1000
feet of a school. What’s at issue here is how much authority Congress can
exercise over the states. Since 1930, Congress has relied heavily on a clause
in the Constitution giving Congress power to “regulate commerce…among the
several states,” to enact a slew of federal laws formerly left-up to the states.
Congress has only had to show that the activity somehow involved interstate
commerce to justify making a federal law against it.
In the Lopez ruling, Chief Justice William Rehnquist called the 1990
Gun-Free School Zone Act “a criminal statute that by its terms has nothing to do
with ‘commerce’ or any sort of economic enterprise.” He also stressed that
federal authority to regulate interstate commerce cannot be used to “obliterate
the distinction between what is national and what is local and create a
completely centralized government.”
The outcome of the Lopez ruling was that Congress received a strong
message from the Supreme Court to curb it’s practice of broadly interpreting the
commerce clause to enact legislation that can be handled by the states. It is
too early to know how or if this decision will impact other gun laws, but it is
a move that may help to reduce the scope of the federal government.
The gun controllers like to argue that the courts have found no
constitutional right of individuals to bear arms. That merely means that the
courts have seldom had occasion to rule on gun control laws. As The Oxford
Companion to the Supreme Court notes, one reason for the absence of court
rulings on the Second Amendment is that, for much of American history, there
were few regulations concerning firearms ownership.
In June of this year, The United States Supreme Court agreed to review
the Brady Law. Soon after the law took effect, lawsuits were filed in federal
district courts in seven states. The plaintiffs in those cases were local
sheriffs, whom the law requires to conduct background checks of handgun
purchasers. Each of the suits alleges that the Brady Law violates the 10th
Amendment of the United States Constitution, which protects state and local
governments from certain types of federal mandates.
Within the last year, three circuits of the U.S. Court Of Appeals have
issued rulings. In two cases, the Ninth Circuit and Second Circuit, the courts
ruled that the background check provision of the law did not violate the 10th
Amendment. The Fifth Circuit rendered a different decision — striking down the
background check as a violation of the 10th Amendment. No court has ever struck
down the waiting period. “We are confident that the Supreme Court, upon hearing
the case, will agree with the decisions made in the Ninth and Second Circuits,”
said Sarah Brady, chairperson of Handgun Control, Inc. “We are not surprised
that the Supreme Court agreed to examine the case given the split in the
Since going into effect on Feb. 28, 1994, the law has stopped tens of
thousands of prohibited individuals from making over-the-counter handgun
purchases. Furthermore, polls have consistently shown more than 90 percent of
the American public supporting the law.
As stated earlier, there is little jurisprudence in the area of gun
control by the Supreme Court. Until the Lopez case, which is really a commerce
clause case, not a gun control case, the Supreme Court had not heard a gun
control issue since the Miller case in 1939. This, however, seems to be
changing with the announcement that the Supreme Court will review the Brady Bill
Case. The issue of gun control is heating up… soon it will be up to the
Supreme Court to decide on the Constitutionality of gun control.
Special interest groups have been part of the American political process
since its beginning and have been viewed ambivalently for more than 200 years.
As early as 1787, James Madison warned about the “mischiefs of `factions.’”
Beginning in the late 1970s, pressure groups took on new importance in U.S.
politics. In the area of gun-control, political special interest groups are
polarized. There is no middle of the road groups, they are either devoutly for
or against gun control. On either side of the gun control issue are two very
prominent, high profile groups, the NRA and Handgun Control, Inc.
The NRA (National Rifle Association) strongly opposes any type of gun
regulation. The NRA publishes “fact sheets” and “congressional ratings sheets”
to inform their members and non-members on their views and how their
Congressional representative rates in the area of gun-control laws. In 1992 the
organization had about 2,500,000 members. With headquarters and a strong lobby
in Washington, D. C., the NRA mobilizes its members through some 14,000
affiliates. Its activities are both educational and recreational (educating
police firearms instructors, sponsoring shooting competitions, promoting safety)
and political (lobbying against gun-control legislation). Although polls show
that the U. S. public favors gun-control laws, the NRA has so far successfully,
if less and less decisively, opposed broad-based legislation.
The NRA has a slogan: “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
Groups for stricter gun control, such as Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI), argue that
guns do kill people. They think that it is the gun that makes people feel they
are in the right and have the power to take someone’s life and control a
Handgun Control, Inc. is the nation’s largest citizens’ gun control
lobbying organization. HCI, based in Washington, D.C., works to enact stronger
federal, state, and local gun control laws, but does not seek to ban handguns.
Founded in 1974, HCI has more than 400,000 members nationwide. The Brady Law,
which was passed in February 1994, was strongly lobbied for by interest groups
such as HCI. These types of interest groups are actively working to counteract
the NRA’s force in Washington.
The NRA, HCI, and other interest groups endorse political candidates to
give members a means of knowing where that candidate stands on an issue. This
‘’single-issue politics,” creates a political race where many individuals and
groups support or reject candidates based solely on their views on particular
questions. Interest groups are increasingly supplying the public with more and
more guidelines on how its members should vote for candidates.
The preamble of the United States Constitution clearly states its
objective: to establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the
common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty
to ourselves and our posterity.
The bill of rights is the set of amendments to the constitution intended
to secure these objectives for the individual citizens of the United States. 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. This amendment was written in the wake of the revolutionary
war, when the ability to raise arms against the imperial force made the new
republic possible. Securing the ownership of arms, as a right, was central to
creating a government that would not infringe on the liberty of its citizens.
The use of arms, however, is the last option reserved when all other attempts at
the preservation of liberty have failed.
Today we live in a much different world than that of our founders. The
rise of the United States into world dominance, the shift of population into the
cities, and the increase of drug use and violence have produced great change in
our society. Americans once feared the loss of the free state would come from
foreign invasion or political corruption, but now the greatest threat is the
violence we see on the evening news. The increase in violence and murder has
sparked the greatest debate over gun ownership in our nation’s history. The
second amendment has been reinterpreted by those who feel the mere presents of
guns have led to increased violence. I believe that the threat violence poses to
personal liberty is the best reason to protect gun rights.
We must assume that the founders understood the responsibilities that
are inherent with gun ownership. The exclusion of criminals and the insane had
to be seen in the interest of the republic. These specific decisions are
constitutionally the responsibility of individual states. The regulations
placed on the ownership of guns fall into two categories. The first set of
regulations are penalties and deterrents for those who should not have guns.
Second is the regulations that help to protect law abiding gun owners.
Guns must be regulated to prevent criminals and others who might use
weapons against the good of the state from attaining weapons legally or
illegally. President George Bush indicated the true problem in a 1992 speech,
when he said, “I am firmly committed to keeping guns out of criminals hands and
keeping criminals off the street. Ultimately, the only gun control that will
really work is crime control.”
Several reforms are needed in order to decrease the number of criminals
in possession of guns. Mandatory sentences should be established for criminals
who perpetrate crimes using guns and for felons caught with guns. This
regulation will serve as a deterrent for using guns, and will help keep the
armed criminal behind bars. A minimum sentence for the theft of firearms may
help to slow down the flow of guns into the black market.
A waiting period or a pre-check system on all gun purchases will help
keep ineligible buyers from attaining guns legally. The system must be
efficient and accurate before the cost to taxpayers can be justified. Stricter
rules for the licensing of gun dealers will help to limit the number of people
with access to new weapons. Stricter business regulations and an effort to
increase compliance will help to weed out the bad dealers. The most stringent
of regulations can not solve the problem of violence in America. The black
market is strong and will continue to serve the needs of the criminal. The
United States has no hope of truly improving its social dilemma without a return
Until the situation improves, the lawful citizen must be allowed to
protect him/herself in the spirit of the second amendment. Compliance with
simple regulations that will help protect the owner and others demonstrates
responsibility in gun ownership. I feel that gun ownership should be handled in
the same fashion as car ownership. The first step should be thorough training.
Mandatory safety classes will teach how and when the use of a gun is appropriate.
When the training is completed, a gun can be registered and a license for use
issued. Despite all the training in the world, accidents still occur. A gun
owner liability policy should be required for anyone who wishes to own or use a
gun. This policy would probably become part of a homeowners policy, and could
be used as a pre-checking system for the purchase of handguns. This would place
the responsibility of background checks on the insurance companies rather than
the taxpayer. It would also allow those with a policy to pick out and take home
a gun the same day of purchase, eliminating the need for a waiting period. The
insurance industry is the foremost expert in the prevention of accidents. The
regulations they would place on gun owners would be more effective than any the
government bureaucracy could develop for the prevention of accidents.
In any situation, guns should be seen as the last option. In some cases,
however, the use of deadly force is your only protection. In 1992, firearms
were used for self-defense over 82 thousand times. In 63% of these incidents,
the victim only had to show the gun to stop the attack. With proper training, a
gun is an effective deterrent and a lethal defense.
Perhaps the people who know the best about gun control are police
officers. In a 1988 survey of police officers, most unanimously agreed on
mandatory prison sentences, stricter laws on handgun sales, and increased
requirements for handgun dealers. In this same survey, they also agreed that
citizens should be allowed guns in their homes for self protection. This shows
that police officers know they can not protect everyone at once; at times it
falls on the individual to make up their own mind regarding self defense.
Anand, Rajen S., “The Government Terror Bill,” Asian Week September 21,
1996: pp. 23-26.
Baer, Donald and Ted Gest, “Guns,” US News and World Report May 1989: pp.
Cassidy, Warren, “The Case For Firearms,” Time 19 January 1990: p. 23.
Congressional Records, May 29, 1995, p. S 7610
Evans, James T., Where Liberals Go To Die (Houston, Texas: Commonwealth
Publishing, 1994) p. 201.
Grey, Ian, “Guns, Militia, and the Constitution,” Newsweek 16 September 1996:
Holms, Ronald M., A Primer on the Sociology of Crime (New York, NY: McGraw-
Hill, Inc, 1991) p. 39.
Ifill, Gwen, “Another Victim?” The New York Times 24 March 1996, sec. N-1: p.
Institute for Legislative Action, “NRA Firearm Fact Card 1996,” National Rifle
Association 6 February 1996: p. 1.
Malone, Michael, “Clinton’s Gun Control Legacy,” The Washington Post May 01,
1996, Home ed., sec. 2nd: p. 11.
NRA Firearm Fact Card 1996. p. 13
Snyder, Jeffery R., “A Nation of Cowards,” The Public Interest Vol./Issue (Fall
of ‘93): pp. 24-31.
Sowell, Thomas, “Gun Control Proponents Have Hidden Agenda,” The Times-
Mirror 02 February 1996, Evening ed., sec. Metro: pp. 7+.
U.S. Department of Justice, April 1994
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