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article imageOp-Ed: Shoot First Ask Later — Gun Laws in the U.S

By Erin P. Capuano     Apr 27, 2012 in Politics
A look at the gun laws in the United States and the history of the 2nd Amendment. How has this amendment been distorted to commit crimes and make money for the gun lobbyists.
In the wake of the Trayvon Martin case in Sanford, Florida, we are reminded of how minimal our gun laws are in the United States. Year after year, gun laws are stripped away state by state and the outcome is higher rates of gun violence, and higher homicide rates.
The NRA (National Rifle Association of America) is a non-profit 501©(4) organization, that lobbies for the protection of the Second Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights and the promotion of firearm ownership rights, as well as marksmanship, firearm safety, and the protection of hunting and self-defense in the United States.
The Second Amendment has for decades been used as a defense to acquire more and more guns and less and less regulation by the NRA, that while maintaining their non-profit status has become one of the largest lobbying organizations in Washington. The Bill of Rights for all its positive attributes to the country, has always caused a thorn in the side of most law makers when it comes to the subject of gun control. The Second Amendment reads as follows, “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.” During the time that the Bill of Rights was written many states were dealing with Democracy in its infancy, there were still threats of tyrannical governments and military run states, that is why this amendment was written in the first place. It has been interpreted to mean that everyone can carry guns, but in reality that is not why it was enacted.
Throughout the years the country has had to update its laws to change with the industry of gun making, because as technology grows so does the power of the new weaponry. Bills such as the Assault Weapons Ban, Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, and the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban are just a few that have been enacted to control the sale and use of firearms in the country. The Assault Weapons Ban being the most important in recent years, because of its infiltration into the drug running and selling scene, making its way into the hands of drug dealers and gangs, it was becoming one of the most dangerous weapons used against police to date. This ban included prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms, so called “assault weapons.” There was no legal definition of assault weapons until this act in 1994. President Bill Clinton signed this into law on September 13, 1994 for a total of 10 years until it expired in 2004, it was not renewed by then President George W. Bush and while there have been multiple attempts to renew the ban, no bill has reached the floor for a vote. President Clinton was a strong advocate for gun control and it was also during his watch that the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was signed into law, this act instituted federal background checks on firearm purchasers in the United States.
The Brady Act was originally proposed in 1987, the NRA lobbied to defeat the legislation, spending millions of dollars, while the bill did end up passing both chambers of Congress, the NRA did win one large concession: the final version of the legislation provided that, in 1998, the five day waiting period for handgun sales would be replaced by an instant computerized background check that involved no waiting periods. This still wasn’t enough for the NRA who then took it upon themselves to file lawsuits in Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming that sought to strike down the Brady Act as unconstitutional. Eventually the cases made their way to the Supreme Court for review, in the case Printz v. United States. In Printz, the NRA argued that the Brady Act was unconstitutional, because its provisions requiring local law enforcement officers to conduct background checks was a violation of the 10th Amendment in the Constitution (Brief Amicus Curiae of the National Rifle Association of America in Support of Petitioners, Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898, 1997). Based on these grounds, the NRA told the Court “the whole Statute must be voided.” The Supreme Court ruled in their favor in 1997 thus eliminating the background checks performed by state and local law enforcement. (Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act)
The NRA has been the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing for generations, touting their support of the rights of the people, when in fact it’s their selfish need to keep, own and use more and more firearms that drives their protests. Studies conducted throughout the years show that gun violence and deaths by firearms rank the highest among homicides. In fact from 2000-2008, 66% of all homicides were the result of handguns, rifles, shotguns, or other firearms not specified. As opposed to 34% of homicides from another form, blunt objects, knives, fire, etc (Source, U.S. Census 2011 – Murder Victims–Circumstances and Weapons Used or Cause of Death)
Let’s break the statistics down for 2008 (released 2010):
• Handguns – 6,755
• Rifles - 375
• Shotguns - 444
• Other not specified or type unknown - 79
• Firearms, type not stated – 1,831
Grand Total 2008 – 9,484 deaths by firearms
In 2010 (latest count), there were 12,996 murders in the U.S. Of those, 8,775 were caused by firearms. I should point out that none of these statistics obviously include injuries caused by gun violence or accidents caused by firearms.
In Canada, where the gun laws are considerably stricter than the United States, the statistics are just astounding, in 2008 they had just 200 homicides due to gun violence and the rate of gun homicide per 100,000 people in 2009 was 0.53. These aren’t just fluke numbers either, according to gunpolicy.org in Canada, annual firearm homicides total:
2008: 200
2007: 188
2006: 190
2005: 223
2004: 173
2003: 161
2002: 152
2001: 171
2000: 184
1999: 165
1998: 151
1997: 186
1996: 207
1995: 168
In Canada, the annual rate of firearm homicide per 100,000 population is:
2009: 0.53
2008: 0.60
2007: 0.56
2006: 0.58
2005: 0.69
2004: 0.55
2003: 0.51
2002: 0.46
2001: 0.54
2000: 0.59
1999: 0.54
1998: 0.50
1997: 0.61
1996: 0.69
1995: 0.57
1992: 0.76
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing Michael Moore’s documentary, Bowling for Columbine, he addresses this issue when going to Canada. He demonstrates being able to literally walk into someone’s house, because they do not lock their front doors. They feel so safe in their environment, that they do not feel the need to lock their doors for safety. When President Obama was elected in 2008, there was a sudden outcry from the Republican party and the NRA that the Liberal Socialist Obama was going to take your guns away, there has never been any word by President Obama that he would at any time construct stricter gun laws, in fact there was no mention of it on the campaign trail. Even after the horrible shooting in Arizona, that left Gabby Giffords hospitalized, fighting for her life and so many dead, there was never a mention of addressing our horrible gun laws. Gun sales skyrocketed after his election, gun makers and retail stores saw higher profits, and more and more guns made their ways onto the streets.
According to FBI figures for the week of November 3 to 9, 2008, the bureau received more than 374,000 requests for background checks on gun purchasers -- a nearly 49 percent increase over the same period in 2007. Conatser said his store, Virginia Arms Company, has run out of some models -- such as the AR-15 rifle, the civilian version of the military's M-16 -- and is running low on others.
In fact, it is said to be a trend that whenever a Democratic president is elected gun sales surge, a calculated move on the Republican’s part to drum up sales for their buddies or some seriously misguided individuals who think buying guns is the answer to their freedoms?
We’ve all heard the classic line, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. But how true is that really? If the government restricted the guns that we allow people to have, if we restricted the amount of guns that are put out into our country, wouldn’t it be more likely that deaths by gun violence would go down? You can never know what is happening in a person’s mind and there will always be people who have mental problems, but should we enable them by giving them a weapon and means?
The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are as I like to say, living documents, they exist as moveable pieces, they were the basis of what our country was founded on, but that doesn’t mean their messages can stand the tests of time. What was relevant in 1788, will not and cannot be just as relevant in 2012 and we cannot expect to be a living, progressive country if we do not change with the times. If centuries of living have taught us anything, it’s that the human species is one of constant knowledge, of eternal learning and growing, and we’ve come such a long way from plagues and witch hunts to a point where our technology is saving lives, running countries and our people are making differences in the world. Our laws must be just as progressive and moveable as our societies have become, we cannot allow ourselves to be run by large lobbying organizations like the NRA, who care nothing of the people, they care nothing of the children, like Trayvon Martin, or the thousands of children who are killed by stray bullets yearly in this country. Our government must remember that they work for us, we are the people and we employ millions of police, military and security to protect our land, to protect our belongings and our personhood. We spend billions a year to train these men and women to be the best at what they do, so that we don’t have to do it. The only people in this country who should own a gun are the professionals, are the ones who train for this for a living, the people took oaths to protect us and our country. Once we become a country who shoots first and asks questions later, we are no longer a civilized country, we are no longer a free country.
There’s a quote that I hear frequently on ads during talk radio for MSNBC by Al Sharpton, that really hits a nerve with me and I said if I ever got the chance I would quote him, ‎"There was a time it was acceptable women couldn't vote and blacks were in the back of the bus. A lot of things were acceptable--until we stopped accepting it." After I heard that quote it made me think to myself, wow he’s right, there was a time that certain things were just a part of everyday life, we accepted them because it was all we knew until we realized they were wrong, until we stood up and said enough is enough. Maybe it’s time we stand up again and have our voices heard, maybe it’s time we say that we are done being a country that allows its citizens to walk around armed and fully loaded.
In 2008 and 2010, the Supreme Court issued two Second Amendment decisions. In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. In dicta, the Court listed many longstanding prohibitions and restrictions on firearms possession as being consistent with the Second Amendment. In McDonald v. Chicago (2010), the Court ruled that the Second Amendment limits state and local governments to the same extent that it limits the federal government.
The debate will rage on between the anti-violence and anti-war activists, such as myself, and those who interpret the Bill of Rights to suit their needs. And while we may disagree on what the Second Amendment means, we should both be in agreement that guns have been severely misused throughout the years. Killing citizens, especially unarmed citizens, is not the way a country of civilized human beings should be run and it’s not the way I’m sure anyone would want to live. We can have stricter gun laws while still allowing people to own guns, we can limit the amount of guns that people own, the type of guns that they are able to own and where and when they are able to have those guns and use them. There can be a happy median in the way we develop and construct bills in our government, but we will never accomplish anything if lobbying organizations, like the NRA, continue to pour millions of dollars into the pockets of law makers and partisanship remains in Congress and the Senate. We need to protect our children and our children’s children, before it's too late.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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