This is the first of a series of posts concerning the issue of gun control.
The Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights 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.
Who or what is the Militia? In short, it is the People of the United States, who may be called upon to defend their country. Note that this is NOT the (Federalized) National Guard, which was created by Congress in 1903. Militias are composed of ordinary people, not professional soldiers.
State Militias (now called Stated Defense Forces) were important to the States as they saw the potential of the Federal government to become a supreme and onerous government. As the States were considering ratifying the Constitution, the Bill of Rights were debated and voted into the Constitution. The Preamble to the Bill of Rights says as much:
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.
The State Militias were the “insurance policy” of the States against an overbearing and egregious Federal government. And as such, the People’s right to “keep and bear Arms” as part of a militia was recognized. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…
From the historical aspect of self-defense, one does not need to look further than the Bible:
“Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.”” – Luke 22:36
Note that a sword has but one purpose, and it isn’t to peel potatoes. It is a weapon.
The Founders of this country were not ignorant of the Bible nor of English Law or of the historical record concerning weapons and their use for defense of oneself and others. Having won their independence from a tyrannical government, they took upon themselves to provide a right for people to protect their lives from governments or from people who wished them harm.
[Now I realize that the above is a rather brief introduction into how and why the Second Amendment was included into the Bill of Rights. However, I hope that this will suffice for the subject at hand.]
So what were the available “arms” that the average citizen had to choose from? At that time, the same arms that were available to the standing Army and Navy – swords, knives, single-shot muzzle loaded muskets, and if desired, even cannons. No restrictions were made or proposed on what a private citizen could have – it all depended on what the person wanted to have, could afford, or what purpose the weapon was used for – hunting, self-defense, sport, or as part of the militia or military (soldiers, especially officers, often purchased their own arms). The bottom line is that the intent was to allow the citizens (the Militia) to be as well armed as the regular military.
This all changed with the National Firearms Act of 1934. Machine guns, short-barreled shotguns & rifles, suppressors, and various other items such as grenades were banned or restricted. Up until that time, it was perfectly legal (if impractical) to own a Thompson machine gun without registration and paying a tax. It should be noted that handguns were included in the original legislation, but was removed.
The Federal Firearms Act of 1938 added more regulations by requiring licenses for gun dealers and manufacturers, and required records of sales. It also prohibited convicted felons from owning firearms.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 rewrote or reinforced many of the provisions of the above two acts, added restrictions on the transfers of firearms across state lines, and established the Federal Firearms License system for firearm dealers. More restrictions upon firearm sales and transfers were added, most notably against drug users and those who have been “been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution,” and illegal aliens.
The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 created the background check needed to purchase firearms, and had a mandated five-day waiting period. This waiting period was removed with the creation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is maintained by the FBI.
Through the above Federal legislation and State regulations not mentioned, it is clear that there are laws against illegal ownership of firearms by felons, violent criminals, and those with mental problems. But that does not mean that criminals and other people wishing to commit crimes will not acquire firearms by other than legal means.
An article in Forbes stated that: “According to surveys DOJ conducted of state prison inmates during 2004 (the most recent year of data available), only two percent who owned a gun at the time of their offense bought it at either a gun show or flea market. About 10 percent said they purchased their gun from a retail shop or pawnshop, 37 percent obtained it from family or friends, and another 40 percent obtained it from an illegal source.”
So where is the reduction in criminals acquiring guns that is directly associated with gun control legislation?
More in Part 2…