Brett Roper

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Local outdoors columnist

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One concern of hunters and gun owners in this country is that the current broad interpretation of the “right to bear arms” is maintained into the future. While this is a valid long-term concern, there seems to be a current belief that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is under attack. For this concern to be valid, there would need to be an increase in the number of legal roadblocks required before buying guns in the United States. Such a proposition would be hard to prove.

Over the history of this country, there have been few federal laws intended to limit the possession of guns by US citizens. A quick review suggests all these laws were focused on reducing crime.

The National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Federal Firearms Act of 1938 outlawed machine guns, short barreled rifles (less then 16 inches), grenades, bombs and poison gas and required people who sell guns to have a license. These laws were necessitated by gangsters such as Bonnie and Clyde and Al Capone, whose crime sprees were spreading across this country. The big driver in passing this law was the number of police being killed by these criminals.

Approximately 30 years after these laws, the Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed. This act increased the accountability of people who sold guns by making it illegal to sell them to felons, illegal aliens, and people adjudicated mentally ill. The passage of this bill was in reaction to the assassination of President John Kennedy, Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This law finally got teeth when the Brady Handgun Protection Act (1993) was passed and required background checks be conducted by most gun sellers to determine if a buyer fell into one of those categories.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 prohibited the sale of select assault weapons and high-capacity magazines from 1994 to 2004. It is important to remember, that as the title of this law suggests, it passed because in this era criminals often had greater firearm capacity than did the police. While this act was passed to protect law enforcement officers, attempts to maintain these bans after the bill expired was the beginning of an increased concern the government was limiting gun rights.

Instead, the data suggests that since this law expired federal roadblocks for owning guns have been reduced. The biggest step in that direction was the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller which found the constitution protected an “individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia.” This finding was extended by McDonald v. Chicago (2010) that found the right to keep and bear arms for home self-defense. While individual rights to own guns have long been assumed, this was the first time these rights were outlined by the Supreme Court.

Since the early 2000s there has been a shift towards expanding gun rights in most states. For example, today only eight states are “may issue” for gun carry permits. These are the states that make it almost impossible to get a concealed carry permit. But even this state requirement is headed to the Supreme Court with a decision this fall. In contrast, many states such as Utah are eliminating the need to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Don’t misinterpret what I am saying, there are still eight to ten states trying to limit gun ownership. Even these states are having a difficult time. California’s ban on buying assault weapons was recently overturned. Although this decision has been stayed, it reveals the increasing difficulty in limiting gun ownership.

That said, California has not given up. They are now trying to limit the ability to buy ammunition, a right that is not protected by the Constitution. It is interesting that the pandemic has done what anti-gun activists have not been able to do — make it tough to purchase guns and ammunition in the US.

With few exceptions, the last 15 years have been favorable for those who want to own guns. The presence of individual gun ownership has long been a part of America’s ethos and will remain that way given the current Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment. While gun ownership is an important right, it comes with many responsibilities. In the current situation, discussions focused on the proper behavior of gun owners rather than the right to own guns will instill more trust in people who remain concerned with the large number of guns in this country.

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