gun regulations

  • January 5, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Adam Winkler, Professor of Law, UCLA Law. Winkler is author of Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.

    President Obama announced today a series of gun reforms that he plans to execute as a matter of executive action. Federal gun laws are pretty detailed, so there were significant limits to what the president could do. Yet, as a group of scholars (including me) advised in a recent American Constitution Society letter, the president does have the authority to do more to limit access to guns by felons and the mentally ill and to crack down on rogue gun dealers. The proposals announced today do just that.

    The reforms, taken individually, won’t have that much immediate impact. Nonetheless, taken together, they might make a dent in America’s epidemic of gun violence. Much of the media attention so far has focused on his proposal to broaden the definition of who is “engaged in the business” of selling guns and who, therefore, must have a license and conduct background checks. That’s a worthwhile reform, but equally important are the other elements of his gun reform package: strengthening the background check system by gathering more information from states; hiring more agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the main federal law enforcement agency charged with overseeing our gun laws; and encouraging federal agencies to finance gun violence prevention research. These reforms will, in the long run, make it easier to crack down on rogue gun dealers and do more to insure that people prohibited from purchasing firearms don’t slip through the cracks of our current background check system.  

    Perhaps the most significant aspect of this package of gun reforms is that, regardless of the details of the proposals, what it says about the state of the gun debate. For the past few decades, it was unimaginable that a democratic president would propose gun reforms in an election year. Democrats saw gun control as a losing issue. That’s changed since Newtown. Today, we are seeing Democrats seize the gun control issue rather than run away from it. Hillary Clinton has made gun control a central plank in her platform, gun control candidates are receiving significant financial support from gun control organizations, and we are seeing vibrant political mobilization by Americans who want better gun laws. Even without Congress acting, we’ve seen considerable reform at the state level, and (as these proposals highlight) through executive action. The gun control movement is back. 

  • December 7, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to take up a Second Amendment challenge to a local ordinance that bans semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in Highland Park, Ill., reports Adam Liptak at The New York Times.

    The Department of Justice will conduct a thorough civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department, writes Timothy M. Phelps in the Chicago Tribune.

    Ahead of Tuesday’s oral arguments in Evenwel v. Abbott, Ari Berman at The Nation discusses why electoral districts should continue to be drawn based on total population.

    Nina Totenberg at NPR explains why the number of death sentences handed down in the United States has plummeted since the mid-1990s.

  • May 18, 2015
    Guns Across America
    Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights
    Robert J. Spitzer

    by Robert J. Spitzer. He is the Distinguished Service Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at SUNY Cortland. Spitzer is the author most recently of Guns Across America: Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights, published by Oxford University Press.

    The contemporary American gun debate has been cast as a battle between two opposing, mutually exclusive principles: gun laws and gun rights. The struggle between these two is invariably portrayed as a zero-sum game—that the gain of one is a loss for the other. Yet our own history tells a different story, one that contains at least two important lessons. The first is that, throughout most of American history, gun rights and gun laws existed hand in hand. The second is that, in many respects, guns were more heavily regulated in our country’s first 300 years than in the last thirty years.

    While gun ownership is as old as America, so are gun laws. Early gun laws covered every imaginable type of regulation, even including registration and outright gun bans. In fact, the first “gun grabbers” were not 1960’s Chablis-drinking liberals, but rum-guzzling pioneers of the 1600s. Early gun laws restricted gun ownership and possession to Native Americans, slaves, indentured servants, vagrants, non-Protestants, those who refused to swear an oath of loyalty to the government, felons, foreigners and numerous recreational restrictions. Early laws also regulated the manufacture, inspection, and sale of firearms, as well as gun storage and discharge restrictions. Others prohibited not only the firing of firearms in or near towns, but firing after dark, on Sundays, in public places, near roads and bridges or while under the influence of alcohol.

    Among the earliest and most prolific laws were those restricting or barring the carrying of concealed weapons (these restrictions typically applied to pistols as well as certain types of knives). As early as 1686, New Jersey barred the wearing of concealable weapons in public because, according to the law, “it induced great Fear and Quarrels.” In 1837, Georgia made it illegal “to sell. . .or to keep or have about their persons” pistols or other listed weapons. The restriction applied both to merchants and private citizens, and its stated purpose was “to guard and protect the citizens of this State against the unwarrantable and too prevalent use of deadly weapons.” By the end of the 18th century, four states had enacted gun carry restrictions. In the 19th century, 37 states did so and another four states followed suit in the early 20th century.

  • February 13, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    For far too long the gun lobby has loudly proclaimed that the Constitution bars almost any kind of law aimed at curbing gun violence. But since a string of mass shootings last year culminating in the Newtown mass shooting that took the lives of 20 children, there’s been a growing chorus of voices pushing back against the gun lobby’s platitudes and simplistic, often misleading, interpretation of the Second Amendment.

    More than 50 constitutional law scholars signed a letter explaining why the Second Amendment is not absolute or unlimited. Very few of rights and liberties enshrined in the Constitution are absolute. One of the scholars who signed that letter is among the nation’s greatest constitutional law scholars -- Laurence H. Tribe, a distinguished Harvard Law School professor.

    Hours before President Obama, a former student of Tribe’s, gave his State of the Union Address, Tribe testified before a Senate Judiciary committee examining ways to curb gun violence without trampling the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

    In his oral and written testimony Tribe made it clear that efforts to reduce – not eliminate – gun violence through government action are not beyond reach because of the Second Amendment. In current Supreme Court rulings, such as D.C. v. Heller, Tribe explained the justices took certain policy choices off the table for consideration and “thereby cleared the path to reasonable regulations to be enacted without fear that those policy choices would ever open the door to unlimited government control or be imperiled by exaggerated interpretations of the Second Amendment.” (Click picture of Tribe for video of his opening remarks, or see here.)

    Tribe noted that Justice Antonin Scalia author of the majority opinion in Heller noted that the court’s interpretation of the “Constitution leaves open a variety of regulatory tools to combating the problem of gun violence in this country.”

    In his written testimony, Tribe put it this way: “Proposals to disarm the American people, to leave firearms solely in the hands of the military and the police, have been decisively taken off the table – if they were ever truly on the table – by the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decisions in 2008 and 2010 [Heller and McDonald v. Chicago respectively].”