Gun control in the US

When ever there is a mass shooting in the US, there is inevitably a debate on the gun laws in the US. I find the level of ignorance in the debate inevitably high.

Personally I like living in a country where the level of firearm ownership and use is relatively low, and the level of gun related crime is also low.

If you want to debate gun control in the US, you need to understand three things.

  1. The second amendment, “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.” does mean there are limits to gun control laws, but these limits are less than many realise.
  2. The federal government has little role in gun laws. Each state gets to set their own laws. This is the basis of how government was formed in the US.
  3. The level of firearm ownership in the US is so huge, that it is naive to think it could or would ever have levels of ownership down with countries in in Europe.

I say this not to defend US gun culture. I’m not a fan of . But if you don’t understand how a political system works, then calls for change are an (understandable) knee-jerk response.

Now taking the 2nd amendment issue first, this clearly places a limit on gun control laws. You can’t just ban private gun ownership. And there is no possibility the 2nd amendment will ever be taken out of the Bill of Rights. Now the 2nd amendment does refer to a well-regulated militia, but courts have ruled that this doesn’t mean that gun ownership is only allowed for members of militias (especially as there are none now), but was allowed for traditional purposes such as self-defence.

The 2nd amendments writers were partially inspired by the English Bill of Rights and the earlier common law.

In terms of the actual law, it is worth noting Connecticut has the 5th toughest gun laws of the 50 states. Specifically:

To buy a gun, Connecticut law requires residents apply for a local permit, typically with the town’s police chief, have their fingerprints taken and submit to a state and federal background check with a 14-day waiting period. To buy a handgun, residents also are required to take a gun safety course.

The state is also one of seven to have an assault weapons ban that specifically lists more than 35 semiautomatic and automatic weapons. It does not appear to cover the .223 caliber rifle used in Friday’s attack.

In terms of the culture, Americans recall that it is only through gun ownership that they won their independence from Britain. Now I agree 200 years on, they don’t need guns with individuals to overthrow a government. But the reality is that this cultural tradition is hugely strong in America, and you are never going to have the US with Europe or NZ style gun laws or levels of gun ownership. It is like wishing for the Easter Bunny.

That is not to say that there are not improvements that can and should be made to the gun laws, especially around automatic weapons. But don’t think for a moment that you will ever have a case where criminals in the US can’t get their hands on lethal firearms.

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