United States of America

09 June 2022

Gun laws and the Second Amendment to the US Constitution

As a matter of fact, US gun policy differs from the rest of the world, or at least the Western part. Since the mass shootings taking place all around the country have increased in the past decades, the debate on gun laws is on the table but still no changes seem likely to be agreed. 


Such tradition of gun ownership, amounting to 46 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns (bearing in mind that US population only corresponds to a 5 percent of the world’s total), converts the US on the number one country in firearms per capita. Also, entitles the highest homicide by firearm rate of the world’s most developed nations.


It is rooted in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which protects the right to keep and bear arms, reading: 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.


This right to bear arms is regulated by the US Supreme Court, which has banned concealed weapons and the sale for certain individuals (minors, convicted criminals, mentally disabled and dishonourably discharged military personnel) under the Gun Control Act of 1968. Furthermore, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993, mandated background checks for all unlicensed individuals purchasing a firearm from a federally authorized dealer.


Recent presidents to the US have attempted decrease gun violence as a response to the mass shootings; for instance, Obama in 2016 after San Bernardino, through a measure that required dealers of firearms at gun shows or online to obtain federal licenses and conduct background checks. Or Trump in 2017 after the events that took place in Las Vegas and Parkland, imposed a regulatory ban on bump stocks.


Other than that, the US Supreme Court has even rolled back gun laws, as is the case of handguns that were struck down in 2008, bump stocks no longer qualified as machine guns in 2021 or Trump supporting a bill to roll back an Obama-era regulation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase guns.


These are all federal laws but then in theory, states and cities can impose their own legislation, but without nullifying the federal, otherwise being unconstitutional. 


Between 1994 and 2004 there was a federal prohibition on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, however, Congress let those expire. Right now, semiautomatic assault weapons, military-style .50 calibre rifles, handguns, or large-capacity magazines, have no regulations and mass killings have raised since the pandemic leaving 8,000 deaths in 2021, in other words 54 lives lost per day.


After the recent shooting in Uvalde’s elementary school earlier this week, which left 19 children and two adults dead, new proposals to overhaul gun laws are being considered in Congress but will surely face long odds in the Senate.


The House of Representatives, controlled by the Democratic party, passed a sweeping gun bill "Protect Our Children Act” by a vote of 223 to 204, to raise the minimum age to buy assault rifles from 18 to 21, ban the sale of high-capacity magazines and introduce new rules requiring proper home firearm storage. Another piece of legislation known as the “Untraceable Firearms Act” would increase regulation of so-called ghost guns, firearms without serial numbers. 


On the other hand, the Senate is dominated by Republicans, who have the power to pass a 60-vote filibuster to block legislation and are unanimously opposed to the House gun restrictions, therefore, will surely present a block progress on the bill. In addition, a bipartisan group of senators is negotiating a tougher compromise bill that would strengthen background checks, mental health services and school safety.


The Senate's 50-50 split gives Vice President Kamala Harris the crucial decisive vote, meaning Democrats must convince 10 Republicans to pass the legislation. The Senate's bipartisan idea is the best way for Democrats to bring gun laws to President Joe Biden for passage into law. 


The President has emotionally addressed the Uvalde events from the White House, “I had hoped when I became President, I would not have to do this again”, imploring lawmakers to “turn his pain into action”while remembering the massacre at Sandy Hook in 2012 when he was vice president, "Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God's name is our backbone to have the courage to deal with and stand up to the lobbies?".

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