Contemporary Issues

Gun Control
Updated:
October 2, 2021
Published:
September 20, 2021
Assault Rifles & Semi-Automatic Weapons
Background Checks
Open Carry
Mass Shootings
Gun Lobbying
The Second Amendment

Assault Rifles & Semi-Automatic Weapons

CANFirearm


Mass shootings that use assault weapons and lead to many casualties typically draw the most public outcry and media attention. However, most instances of gun violence use handguns. It is heavily debated whether placing a ban on assault weapons will prevent mass shootings, given that handguns are accessible to all legal buyers.  Additionally, critics of assault weapon bans fear that the ambiguous definition will lead to restrictions of all modern firearms.

Assault weapons are generally defined as“specific semiautomatic firearm models that are designed to fire a high volume of ammunition in a controlled way(refer to Terms section).

That high firing rate is the basis of the primary debate: should these types of firearms be available to the public?

After the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was not renewed in 2004, no further legislation explicitly banned high-capacity magazines or military-style assault weapons. However, there has been extensive debate on whether or not a similar law should be enacted now. While most gun-related crime is carried out with a handgun (which is not considered an assault weapon), the intention of banning assault weapons is to tackle the issue of mass shootings in America; whether or not they do is up for debate. These are important facts to consider in this debate:

  • Handguns are used 78% of the time in gun-related incidents.
  • In 4 of the 5 deadliest mass shootings in American history, semi-automatic rifles and assault weapons were the primary choice of firearm.

Since taking office, the Biden administration pledged to take five steps to combat gun violence, one of which addresses stabilizing braces of semiautomatic weapons. The Boulder shooter used a stabilizing brace, making his firearm more accurate, stable. Using this information, the Biden administration plans to implement a rule in which it must be made clear when a “stabilizing brace effectively turns a pistol into a short-barreled rifle subject to the requirements of the National Firearms Act.” The Biden administration has included five steps to address gun violence.

Left Narrative

A federal ban on assault weapons like the AR-15 semi-automatic weapon must be reinstated; no citizen needs to own a military-grade weapon. Banning these can reduce the number of deaths and the number of mass shootings. Implementing a federal buyback program will get assault weapons out of people’s hands.

Right Narrative

The term “assault weapon” refers to how scary the gun looks rather than the function of the gun. An assault weapon ban is a euphemism for banning all semi-automatic gun definition and function of a gun must be properly defined, else our rights be infringed by unconstitutional restrictions.

Background Checks

FBI


No Federal Law can mandate background checks unless they involve federally licensed firearm dealers.  Therefore, states have independent background check systems through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.  Currently, there are two bills on background checks introduced to the House of Representatives: H.R. 8 and H.R. 1446.

No federal law has the power to enforce a background check for every transaction unless it involves a federally licensed firearms dealer (FFL). Therefore, states have the jurisdiction to decide whether they independently wish to require background checks or another screening method. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) provides full service to FFLs in 30 states, five U.S. territories, and partial service to seven states. The remaining 13 states perform their own checks through the NICS. Additionally, some states allow an alternative to background checks if an individual frequently purchases firearms. Individuals who have a permit and have undergone a National Instant Criminal System background check within five years can bypass some state firearm purchasing laws.

After the Sutherland Church Shooting, there was an increase in bipartisan political support for stricter background checks. The shooter was both a convicted criminal and dishonorably discharged from the Air Force for bad behavior. Both, under the NICS, should have been flagged before allowing him to purchase the firearms.

Two background check bills with somewhat bipartisan support have passed in the House of Representatives and are pending Senate confirmation. H.R.8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 prohibits a firearm transfer between private individuals unless a third-party licensed dealer, manufacturer, or importer conducts a background check prior to the transfer. The second bill, H.R.1446, or the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021, suggests a revision to the current 3-day interim period implemented by the Brady Act and following the installation of the NICS. The bill asks to extend the period to 10 business days to ensure confident finality in decisions regarding questionable buyers. If, after ten days, there is still no determination, the purchase may proceed. Since the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) launched in 1998, more than 300 million checks have been done, leading to more than 1.5 million denials.

Left Narrative

Universal background checks are necessary for all commercial gun purchases in order to keep guns out of the wrong hands. The Left supports a federal background check law as well as legislation that extends the time it takes to process these checks. These have been proven effective in curbing gun purchases from criminals and those who are mentally ill.

Right Narrative

Background checks are already conducted before purchase through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Federalizing background checks will ensure that this system will run far less effectively and more irresponsible gun owners will fall through the cracks and gain access to guns.

Open Carry

AP News

Open carry is the act of visually carrying a firearm in public. Open carry can come in various forms and differs across states. Currently, under the umbrella definition, 20 states allow permitless open carry or concealed carry. Texas is the most recent state to establish permitless open carry laws, but in California, it is prohibited to carry a loaded gun openly. 

Open carry laws vary by state legislation and by the level of openness. There are four variations of open carry laws:

  1. Permissive Open Carry: Gun owners can openly carry a gun without a permit or license.
  2. Licensed Open Carry: Gun owners can openly carry a gun after being issued a license to do so.
  3. Anomalous Open Carry: Openly carrying a gun is lawful or illegal under state law and contradicts local laws.
  4. Nonpermissive Open Carry: Openly carrying a gun is illegal under state law and is permitted under very limited circumstances.

States are responsible for determining their open carry laws, which are usually subject to frequent changes. Collectively, the United States has 20 states that allow permitless open or concealed carry, and five states changed their laws in 2021. Texas is the most recent state to establish permitless open carry laws, and it is the largest state by population to do so thus far. The pace at which states are shifting towards permitless open carry signals growing support for looser gun control policies.

However, some major states with a similar population as Texas remain on the opposite end of the spectrum by prohibiting open carry, like Florida, New York, and California. Even though Florida has over 300,000 guns registered and an ownership rate of 35.30%, it has been rigid about its open carry prohibition laws. Open carry bills have been introduced in the Florida state legislature repeatedly, but they were all shut down in the state Senate. Similarly, in California, open carry of a loaded firearm is prohibited, regardless of if it is a handgun or long gun.

(Statista)

Left Narrative

The act of open carry makes it difficult for people to determine who is a potential threat when people are armed in public, especially in times of a shooting. States like Texas who allow open carry without a permit increase the risk of shootings in the public and create public fear.

Right Narrative

The presence of a firearm deters criminals from committing crimes. Sixty percent of convicted felons admitted that they avoided committing crimes when they knew the victim was armed. The question must be answered, “is it better to see who is armed, or not know because the weapon is concealed?”

Mass Shootings

Bloomberg

Using the mass shooting definition from the Gun Violence Archive (three or more people are shot or killed), the United States has averaged roughly ten mass shootings per week in 2021. Mass media has nationalized the importance of fighting against gun violence.  Much of this political communication has culminated in the March for Our Lives demonstrations which followed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

Since the turn of the century, the United States has witnessed a multitude of mass shootings. Using the mass shooting definition from the Gun Violence Archive (three or more people are shot or killed), the United States has averaged roughly ten mass shootings per week in 2021. The United States is one of the nations with the most mass shooting incidents globally, and the number is especially high for a developed nation.

Following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, gun control advocates took to the streets, protesting the pressing issues of gun violence and mass shootings. Unlike past protests, students predominantly led the charge on these initiatives. Shortly after the Stoneman Douglas shooting, students nationwide participated in national school walkouts against gun violence. Survivors of the Stoneman Douglas shooting led the demonstration March for Our Lives, a national protest in Washington DC that drew significant media attention and added fuel to the gun control movement.

Left Narrative

As of June, there have been 267 mass shootings in 2021 alone. Gun control legislation is needed to protect innocent lives from mass shootings. Mass shootings can be stopped with a federal assault ban, red flag laws, and subjecting ghost guns to background checks.

Right Narrative

Mass shootings are always tragic misuses of firearms by evil individuals. Often, the Democrat party uses mass shootings to push their policies with little consideration on whether they would have prevented the mass shooting. On many occasions, a responsible gun owner could have prevented additional casualties by using their own firearm such as in the Sutherland Church shooting.

Gun Lobbying

NRA
Everytown

Gun lobbying is when a person or an organization reaches out to a legislator with an intent to influence their decision over a specific piece of gun legislation. Some major gun lobbying organizations include the National Rifle Association, Everytown for Gun Safety, Giffords, and March for Our Lives. While the NRA spent 54 million dollars on Congressional and Presidential campaigns in 2016, gun control organizations reportedly outspent gun-rights organizations by 40% in the weeks leading up to the 2018 midterm elections. One of the primary concerns about lobbying is whether politicians receive money to enact specific policies or because they support specific policies in the first place.

Gun lobbying is when a person or an organization reaches out to a legislator with an intent to influence their decision over a specific piece of gun legislation. The most prominent gun rights organization is the National Rifle Association (NRA). In contrast, significant gun control organizations include Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords. The NRA spent 54 million dollars on Congressional and Presidential campaigns in 2016, totaling 152 million dollars over the past 15 years. 

In 2018, the tide of funding shifted in favor of gun control organizations. Gun control organizations were reported to have outspent gun-rights organizations by 40% in the weeks leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, a significant shift after decades of almost unilateral influence from pro-gun lobbyists. However, in 2020, gun rights organizations retook the spending lead, though by a smaller margin than in past years. The lobbying debate is concerned with how much influence these organizations actually have over politicians. One of the big questions is whether politicians receive money to enact specific policies or receive money because they support specific policies in the first place.

Campaign finance reform relates to the influence that lobbying organizations have over politicians. One of the main targets from the March for Our Lives was to emphasize lobbying control over politicians.  Their Print a Price Tag campaign was started to show how much money Marco Rubio had taken from the NRA compared to the number of students at Stoneman Douglas High School.  Critics of this campaign were swift to point out that Rubio only received a small donation compared to his total campaign expenses.  In addition, Rubio had not changed his stance on guns; he had received the money because of his stance on gun rights.

For more information on  campaign finance and lobbying, check out the following sources:

The Second Amendment

Legal disputes surrounding the Second Amendment are dependent on the legal theory of the judge.  Left and Right individuals have found common ground in cases such as DC v Heller; however, new cases being brought before the Supreme Court will test the efficacy and legality of gun restrictions.

The legal implications of the Second Amendment are evident in court decisions like District of Columbia v. Heller and United States v. Miller. Courts are typically asked to review the constitutionality of a law or an accused infringement of the law. Hence, the constitutionality related to gun law cases largely depends on the presiding judge and their interpretation of the Second Amendment. The clause is generally split into two parts:

  1. "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State" and
  2. "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."

The wording of the Second Amendment is hotly debated in the judicial system and can vary by court case. The presiding judges can also potentially have different interpretations of the wording, so it is important to acknowledge that there is no explicit right or wrong way to interpret the amendment. The courts' job is to interpret laws to ensure that the government can execute duties that maintain an orderly society while also not infringing the individual rights of individuals. Within the Court, there are four theories of legal interpretation:

  1. Originalism:  Belief that the Constitution should be interpreted at the time that the Framers drafted the document.  What was the original intent of the writing?
  2. Textualism: Examines what the exact text dictates.  What did the words mean at the time they were written?
  3. Pragmatism: Through examining the case facts in a modern setting, Pragmatists consider the consequences of various outcomes and seek to provide a solution that would lead to the least negative impact.
  4. Stare Decisis: Latin for “let the decision stand” followers of Stare Decisis look to previous cases for guidance on how to decide future cases.

In terms of Second Amendment interpretation, originalists and textualists will lean towards the original intent of the Amendment that firearms are needed for protection and work as a check of power against a potentially tyrannical government.  On the other hand, pragmatists will look at the consequences of unrestricted ownership of, for example, tanks or artillery.  Those who follow Stare Decisis will look towards past cases like DC v. Heller to inform future decisions on the Second Amendment.

In April 2021, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a significant case regarding gun rights and involving the Second Amendment: New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Corlett. The state of New York requires a specific reason to carry a concealed firearm with an unrestricted license in public, and the law was challenged by two men, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch. The district court and Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit both dismissed their cases; however, the Supreme Court has granted certiorari on April 26th, 2021, and will hear the case during the next session (beginning on October 4, 2021). The plaintiffs hope that the Supreme Court will be more in favor of the Second Amendment compared to New York State. The case will question whether or not the State of New York can require citizens to provide a reason for possessing a firearm and whether the Second Amendment allows the government to prohibit ordinary law-abiding citizens from carrying handguns outside the home for self-defense. If successful, a Supreme Court decision could overturn many gun restrictions states have enacted.

Left Narrative

The Second Amendment’s right to bear arms is respected for responsible gun owners; it is possible to respect the Second Amendment while implementing gun control measures. It is a common mistake to think that the goal is to strip everyone from their Second Amendment right by taking away all guns. There has never been an attempt by the Left to rewrite or repeal this amendment.

Right Narrative

“The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Any law that prevents this right is by definition unconstitutional and should not exist. This right was enshrined in the Constitution to allow citizens to defend themselves against tyrannical government edicts. These facts should be acknowledged in every court case involving gun laws.

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