Gun Control Laws in the United States

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August 2018, a gunman opened fire at a Madden NFL video game tournament in Florida. During the incident, at least two victims succumbed to death, and nine more were injured (Cranley).  The incident was just one in a series of mass shootings that have taken place in the United States in recent years. Gun violence is one of the leading causes of death in the country.  For instance, according to the gun violence archive, there are more than 314 mass shooting incidents as at 26th November 2018 (Mass shooting in 2018). Moreover, in 2015, there were over 36,000 people killed by gunshots including homicides, suicides, and accidents (Cook and Donohue).

Therefore, although guns in the US are considered a sacred emblem of independence from Great Britain, the recent rise in the number of mass shootings has reignited the gun-control debate (Haynes). However, the debate elicits a number of questions. What kinds of guns should be available for purchase by the public? Where can they be allowed? When is it legal to use the gun? And does restriction of guns make the country safer? Consequently, to respond to some of these questions, an evaluation of the existing gun control laws is necessary.

Overview of Current Regulations

According to the UCLA Law professor Adam Winkler, in the early days of the independence of the United States, gun control laws were based on race. Black people were barred from owning guns; whether free or slave. Similarly, Native Americans and any other person who did not pledge loyalty to the country were denied the privilege of owning a gun. Even so, the 1792 law demanded that eligible white men purchase a gun and join a citizen militia. The guns owned were registered under state laws (UCLA Law). However, gun control laws have evolved with the 2008 Supreme Court ruling on gun ownership being one of the greatest gun-rights hard-liners’ dream victory (Vizzard p.880). The court ruled that Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own a gun for self-defense (Barka).

Currently, gun laws in the US exist in a number of state and federal legislative acts. These statutes regulate the manufacture, trade, possession, transfer, and record keeping of guns and guns accessories, among others. These laws are enforced by state agencies and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).  Furthermore, some local governments have laws that regulate guns. The right to own and bear firearms in the US is protected by the Second Amendment of the US constitution.

Second Amendment

As noted above, the right to keep and bear arms in the US is protected by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Prior to the 2008 court ruling, there was a deficiency of federal court ruling defining the right. However, the cases of McDonald v. the city of Chicago and the District of Columbia v. Heller in 2010 and 2008, respectively, defined the right based on the Second Amendment. An individual’s right to keep a firearm for personal use was affirmed in the historical District of Columbia v. Heller ruling in 2008. The decision was an overturn of a handgun ban by the Federal District of Columbia (Greenhouse). In the ruling, the majority opinion indicated that the Second Amendment defends “the rights of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home” (Greenhouse).  In summary, the second amendment accords law-abiding citizens the right to keep and bear firearms as long as the ownership does not contradict the existing federal acts. 

The regulation and control of gun ownership have never been perfect. However, there has been the continual formulation of acts to ensure keeping and bearing of firearms do not get out of hand on security grounds. For instance, the 1990 Gun-Free School Zones Act forbids individuals that are not authorized to knowingly possess a firearm at a place that is reasonably believed to be a school zone (McNiff and Gettings). Besides, the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act demands that background check be carried out on gun purchases based on the seller ad location (McNiff and Gettings). The 1994-2004 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, although the law expired, it had banned the sale of semiautomatic firearms while the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act prohibits firearms manufacturers and licensed dealers from taking liability in case crime is committed with their products (McNiff and Gettings). However, despite these and many other major federal acts that have been enforced, the linkage of the contribution of gun ownership to mass shootings in the country has never been separated.

However, during the delivery of the majority ruling, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia indicated that the Second Amendment is not an unlimited right. Consequently, Justice Antonin Scalia’s sentiment brings in an aspect of eligibility and landmark acts surrounding guns control.


Currently, it is impossible to determine the number of people who own firearms in the US because of the lack of a national registry of guns. However, according to the General Social Survey, approximately 33.3 percent of the American households and 22 percent of individual adults own firearms as at 2014 (General Social Survey). Additionally, a 2017 Pew research center Survey approximated that 42 percent of the U.S. adults lived in a home with a firearm while 30 percent owned a firearm themselves (Pew Research Center). It is equally hard to find out the number of guns in the US. The 2012 Congressional Research Service Report estimated the number of guns in the country to be over 300 million (Krouse). However, the emergence of more gun control laws has sent the country into ‘panic buying’ over fears of illegalization of purchase of a firearm. 

According to the United States Code, Title 18, chapter 44, Firearms, there a number of groups of people that are eligible to keep and bear firearms (18 U.S.C.). The code states that citizens of the US, nationals but not citizens of the US, lawful permanent residents of the US (green card holders) and aliens that have been lawfully admitted to the country can own firearms (18 U.S.C.). In addition to further restrictions that these categories of the US resident are subjected to, aliens must fulfill other requirements such as possession of lawful hunting license and admission into the US for lawful hunting to be allowed to keep and bear guns. In addition to the federal laws, each state possesses its own laws that must be fulfilled before possession of firearms (18 U.S.C.). Moreover, some states enforce backgrounds checks when it comes to the purchase of firearms. However, by the fact that an individual belongs to the above categories is not guarantee that of being allowed to own a firearm (18 U.S.C.).

According to the Gun Control Act (18 U.S.C), it is unlawful for some categories of people to deal in or possess firearms. A person convicted in any courts of a crime punishable by imprisonment, accused of a crime punishable by law extending one year, and a person adjudicated as being mentally defective, among others, are not allowed to keep and bear firearms.

Public Opinion

Gallup Poll indicates that there is a growing desire for more gun control in the country. The 2018 report demonstrated that 60 percent of the Americans are of the view that gun control laws should be stricter; against 5 percent and 33 percent who thought that the law should be less strict and remain as it is, respectively (Gallup). Moreover, the 2018 Quinnipiac University report notes that 66 percent of the respondents were of the idea that gun laws should be stricter (Quinnipiac University).  However, despite the surveys reflecting a rise in nationwide support for the application of stricter background checks and gun ownership, the trend has been on the upsurge just after a mass shooting. The long-term trend for the last two decades has been a drop in public support for more background checks and controls (Vizzard p.887).

Generally, there is an opinion divide on whether the gun control laws should be stricter. The debates became more heated following a mass shooting. During this time, the better part of the public supports stricter regulation. Contrarily, in the long run, the call and support for stricter laws subside. Admittedly, there is a need to combine the facts and arguments from both sides of the divide (La Valle p.21).


In summary, the gun control laws in the US is a very controversial issue. The controversies emerge from the fact that there must be a balance between defense and human lives being lost through mass shootings. Though it is unresolved issue to date, it is important to balance between the two in future policy formulations.

Works Cited

"18 U.S.C."2018. GPO. 26 November 2018. .

"Adam Winkler Talks to NBC News about Early Gun Control in U.S."06 June 2018. UCLA Law. 26 November 2018. .

"America’s Complex Relationship With Guns."22 June 2017. Pew research center.

26 November 2018. .

Barka, Mokhtar Ben. "The Christian Nation Debate and the U.S. Supreme Court."European Journal of American Studies 6.2 (2011): 2-10.

Cook, Philip, and John Donohue. "Saving lives by regulating guns: Evidence for policy."Science 358.6368 (2017): 1259-1261. .

Cranley, Ellen. "3 dead, including the gunman, after the mass shooting at Madden video game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida."28 August 2018. Business Insider. 26 November 2018. <3 dead, including the gunman, after the mass shooting at Madden video game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida>.

"February 20, 2018 - U.S. Support For Gun Control Tops 2-1, Highest Ever, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Let Dreamers Stay, 80 Percent Of Voters Say."2018. Quinniapic University. 26 November 2018. .

Greenhouse, Linda. "Justices Rule for Individual Gun Rights."27 June 2008. New York. 26 November 2018. .

"Guns."2018. Gallup. 26 November 2018. .

Haynes, Victor. "Gun Control in the United States."Journal of Political Sciences & Public Affairs (2016): 1-6.

Krouse, William. Gun Control Legislation. Domestic Security and Crime Policy. Washington DC: Congressional Research Service, 2012.

La Valle, James. "Gun Control"vs. "SelfProtection": A Case against the Ideological Divide."Justice Policy Journal 10.1 (2013): 1-26.

"MASS SHOOTINGS IN 2018."26 November 2018. Gun Violence Archive. 26 November 2018. .

McNiff, Catherine and John Gettings. "Milestones in Federal Gun Control Legislation."2018. Infoplease. 26 November 2018. .

"Since 1972, the General Social Survey (GSS) has been monitoring societal change and studying the growing complexity of American society."2014. General Social Survey (GSS). 26 November 2018. .

Vizzard, William. "The Current And Future State Of Gun Policy In The United States."Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 104.4 (2015): 878-904.

December 12, 2023

Government Law

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Gun Control

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