Gun Rights and Regulations in Historical Context

Posted
March 18th 2018

There is possibly no other topic currently more politically divisive than the issue of gun rights and regulations. Lawmakers from all across the country have proposed legislation at the state level, as well as at the federal level, that have attempted to make some kind of changes to laws pertaining to guns, particularly semi-automatic weapons. All of these recent arguments have come in the wake of the recent mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Within these heated discussions, there have been many different perspectives offered to curb the possibility for such a catastrophe to happen again—it’s not an either/or decision over one piece of legislation, in other words. Indeed, the second amendment has a long history of complex challenges that resulted in new laws and subsequent court decisions. At times, these governmental changes created more restrictions, but other times they yielded more freedoms.

Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Firearms Act into law in 1934, which not only imposed additional (and rather costly) taxes on “Title II” firearms, but also mandated those weapons to be registered. The Gun Control Act of 1968, following the death of President John F. Kennedy, was also passed to ensure greater regulation on the sale of guns, particularly to those who might be deemed as mentally unstable. This law, in particular, banned mail ordered firearms from getting into the wrong hands through a system as anonymous as ordering a lethal weapon via catalog.

Chuck Schumer, then a congressman in the House of Representatives and now a U.S. senator, introduced the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1991. It was debated for quite some time and eventually passed in November 1993. This was a rather significant change in firearms regulations, as it enforced background checks for anyone who wished to purchase a gun from a federally licensed dealer. It also required a five-day waiting period, but that was eventually deemed unnecessary in 1998 when the FBI instituted the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

America’s history of guns is more than just a progression towards more restrictions, however. The Supreme Court in D.C. v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010) are examples of how the judiciary defended some aspects of gun rights over gun control.

One of the most important bills at the state level to recently pass in regards to guns is SB7026, also known as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. Essentially, this bill raises the minimum age for someone to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, bans bump stocks (a device used to give a semi-automatic weapon a similar capability to a fully-automatic), creates a three-day waiting period for new purchases of guns, and articulates new standards for keeping weapons out of the hands of those who could be deemed harmful to either themselves or society.

For some, this bill did not go far enough in gun control. Kaniela Ing’s bill, HR43, is calling on Hawaii’s state lawmakers to completely ban the AR-15 and other weapons “designed for military use.” On the other hand, some Colorado lawmakers are working to make it easier for a “law-abiding person to carry a concealed handgun without a permit.”

Although the current political climate related to gun laws may seem turbulent, as it has been shown, America has a history of fluctuation in regards to gun rights and regulations. While some laws in the country’s history have worked to restrict either certain people from getting guns, or from the general public obtaining a particular type of gun, there have also been plenty of laws and judicial decisions that have expanded on or clarified gun rights. And in the near future, new pieces of legislation related to gun rights and regulations will likely be fervently contested.