Gun control is one of the most polarizing issues in the current political climate. Some suggest adopting “common sense gun reform,” specifically banning “assault weapons” at the federal level and conducting background checks on gun purchasers. They point to countries with strict gun control and different crime statistics as examples of how similar laws can be effective.
In order to understand opposition to these measures, we need no more reason than the Constitution. If I had to put a finger on a specific interpretation of the Constitution that supports gun rights, it would be the one articulated by Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar in The Law of the Land: A Grand Tour of Our Constitutional Republic. According to him, the Second Amendment originally protected the people’s—or voting public’s—right to possess and use weapons in a military capacity, as a defense against a coup by a standing army in peacetime. However, because the traditional style of people’s militia has withered away, and standing armies are now less likely to be used domestically as instruments of tyranny, Amar contends that the Second Amendment must be interpreted more broadly.The Supreme Court has set forth and upheld such a broad interpretation in numerous cases, most notably District of Columbia v. Heller. In 1939, the Court held in U.S. v. Miller that the Second Amendment protects the types and features of arms in military use. Even so, the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975 passed and banned the further private possession of most types of arms in Washington D.C. Under the FCRA, Dick Heller, a police officer, could carry a gun in defense of a business, but not at home in defense of himself. Filled with indignation, he filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the FCRA, which eventually reached the Supreme Court. After an analysis of the Second Amendment’s diction, syntax, drafting history, and similarity to articles in contemporary state constitutions explicitly guaranteeing an individual right to possess militia weapons, the Court found that the Second Amendment does protect an individual’s right to keep and bear military-style arms and overturned measures of the FCRA. Given the emerging Supreme Court precedent exemplified by D.C. v. Heller, arms such as assault weapons that are currently civilian legal should remain as such. Enter the robust individual right to bear arms as the new main focus of the Second Amendment.
When making the case for banning any firearms, legislators tend to make the egregious mistake of boiling down the issue to “fewer guns equals less violence.” This motto is hard to apply to reality. In the United States, when gun ownership rates are compared with murder rates by state, the states are randomly distributed regardless of their gun laws or ownership rates. Because the overwhelming majority of all shootings could be accomplished without assault weapons, there is little evidence to suggest that banning them would have a meaningful effect on reducing violence anywhere. On the other hand, crime centers such as poor inner city neighborhoods show sharply increased murder rates compared to their surroundings, also regardless of gun laws. Switzerland is an economically strong country with some of the loosest gun laws and one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world, yet it has much less of a gun problem than the United States. Gun violence cannot simply be an issue of the type of inanimate object used to commit a crime, but a symptom of the many larger issues that come with socioeconomically disadvantaged locales. Ignoring the bigger picture and discriminating against gun ownership will only strip away the rights of the law-abiding.