The Right To Keep And Bear Arms
The Second Amendment says, “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.”
The right to arms derives from the right of self-defense, and therefore is an individual right. Thomas Jefferson said, “No free man shall be debarred the use of arms.” Patrick Henry said, “The great object is that every man be armed.” Richard Henry Lee said, “To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms.” Thomas Paine said, “[A]rms . . . discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe.”
James Madison, who introduced the Bill of Rights in the House of Representatives, said its amendments “relate first to private rights.” Sen. William Grayson said the amendments “altogether respected personal liberty.” Tench Coxe said the Second Amendment protected the people’s “right to keep and bear their private arms.”
The Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) that “the inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right,” and that the Second Amendment protects a pre-existing individual right to keep and bear arms, without regard to a person’s relationship to a militia, including “the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.” The court dismissed the idea that only 18th century muskets are protected, saying “the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms.” The Court previously recognized that the Second Amendment protects an individual right in U.S. v. Cruikshank (1876), Presser v. Illinois (1886), U.S. v. Miller (1939) and U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez (1990).
Constitutional scholar Stephen P. Halbrook has found no historical evidence that the amendment was intended to protect a “collective right” of states to arm militias, or a “sophisticated collective right” to use arms only when serving in a militia. Richard Henry Lee said the militia are “the people themselves.” George Mason said “the whole people” are the militia. In U.S. v. Miller, the Supreme Court described the militia as “civilians, primarily, soldiers on occasion . . . a body of citizens. . . . bearing arms supplied by themselves.”
The National Guard is subject to absolute federal control (Perpich v. Dept. of Defense, 1990). When federalized, it is not part of the militia. At other times, it is the “organized militia. ”At all times, the “unorganized militia” consists of other able-bodied males of age and certain other citizens.
“Gun Control” Issues
“Universal Checks” and Registration — Federal law already requires all persons who purchase firearms from dealers to be screened through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Gun control supporters demand that sales and trades of firearms that don’t involve dealers be subject to NICS as well. They claim that such a law would prevent criminals from getting guns, but most criminals obtain guns from theft, the black market, or “straw purchasers”—people who can pass a background check and who buy guns for criminals. Furthermore, none of the high-profile crimes that they cite involved guns bought without a background check.
Gun control supporters originally opposed NICS, but today want it applied to all firearm sales and trades, to set the stage for legislation to require the FBI to permanently retain records of all approved NICS firearm transfers, and to require that such records contain the make, model and serial number of the firearm(s) sold or traded, creating national gun registration.
Felons are prohibited from possessing guns, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that requiring felons to register guns would violate their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
“Large” Magazines — Most modern ammunition magazines designed for defensive purposes hold more than 10 rounds for handguns and 20 or more rounds for rifles. Not surprisingly, gun control supporters who claim that firearms aren’t useful for defensive purposes, claim that such magazines are also not useful for defense, but are instead only useful to criminals. The congressionally-mandated study of the federal “large” magazine ban of 1994-2004 found that such magazines had only rarely been used in crime, a subsequent study found that revolvers were more associated with criminal gun injuries than semi-automatic pistols, and the official report on the Virginia Tech shooting concluded that a 10-round magazine limit would have not made much difference in the outcome of the crime. Americans own well over 100 million “large” magazines and the nation’s murder rate is nearly at an all-time low.
“Assault Weapons” — “Assault weapon” is the term that gun control supporters use to malign general-purpose rifles like the AR-15. Americans now own five million AR-15s, the number is growing by several hundred thousand annually, and the nation’s murder rate is down by more than half since 1991. They’re commonly used for home defense, sports (such as the NRA’s National Defense Match, NRA High Power, and Three-Gun), and hunting.
Right-to-Carry – The federal and 44 state constitutions, and the laws of every state, recognize the right to use guns for defensive purposes. Forty-two states have Right-to-Carry laws and every state (except Vermont, which does not require a permit to carry) has a carry permit system on the books. Only the District of Columbia prohibits carrying altogether. To protect the privacy of permit holders, 43 states prohibit the public release of permit holders’ names.
Self-Defense Laws – Most states have comprehensive “castle doctrine” and/or “stand your ground” laws protecting the right of people to use firearms for self-defense. Gun control supporters oppose the use of firearms for protection, and demand that old laws requiring people to attempt to flee from criminals before defending themselves be reinstated.
“Smart” Guns — A year ago, President Barack Obama ordered the Consumer Products Safety Commission to review manufacturing standards for gun locks and gun safes. Gun control supporters have long wanted the commission to be able to impose standards on firearms that no manufacturer could meet. NRA opposes requiring guns to be made with electronic equipment that would allow the guns to be deactivated remotely, or with other features that gun owners do not want.
Tiahrt Amendment on Release of Firearm Trace Data—This allows BATFE to provide tracing information on firearms to law enforcement agencies, for law enforcement purposes, but prohibits disclosure to gun control supporters who want it for use in lawsuits against the firearms industry.
“Ballistic Fingerprinting”—Gun control supporters want markings on bullets and cartridge cases fired from new handguns to be entered into a database. NRA opposes it, because enforcing it would require gun registration. The National Academy of Sciences has concluded that a national database of such markings is unworkable and shouldn’t be established.
Firearm Traces—A trace consists of BATFE using a firearm’s make, model and serial number to follow its movement from manufacturer or importer, down the chain of commerce. BATFE and the Congressional Research Service have said traces don’t show how often specific types of guns are used in crimes, traced guns aren’t representative of guns used in crimes, most guns used in violent crimes aren’t traced, and most traced guns haven’t been used in violent crimes.
Terrorist Watchlist—NRA opposes legislation to prohibit the possession of firearms by people on the watchlist, because the FBI will not say who is on the list or why, and the legislation would violate the 5th Amendment by preventing a watchlisted person from challenging the FBI in a fair and open hearing in court.
“Gun Control” Doesn’t Work
Studies by or for Congress, the Department of Justice, the Congressional Research Service, the Library of Congress, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found no evidence that “gun control” reduces crime, suicides or accidents in the U.S. or abroad.
More Guns, Less “Gun Control,” and Less Crime
There are more guns and gun owners in the U.S. than ever. During the last decade, “gun control” has been significantly reduced. The federal waiting period on handguns ended in 1998. Congress refused to renew the federal “assault weapon” and “large” magazine ban, allowing it to expire in 2004. Congress and 33 states have prohibited frivolous lawsuits against the firearms industry. Forty-two states have Right-to-Carry laws, and 48 states prohibit cities from imposing gun laws more restrictive than state law. From 1991 to 2012, the total violent crime rate declined 49% to a 42-year low, and the murder rate declined by 52% to a 49-year low.
NRA’s 93,000 Certified Instructors and 12,000 Law Enforcement Instructors reach over 800,000 people annually. NRA’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe® Program has been used by more than 26,000 schools, law enforcement agencies, and civic groups to reach more than 26 million children since 1988. The fatal gun accident rate has declined 94% since 1904.
Privately owned firearms in the U.S.: Approximately 300 million, including approximately 100 million handguns. The number of firearms rises by more than 10 million annually.
Gun owners in the U.S.: 100 million; 40-45 million own handguns
American households that have firearms: 40-45%
Hunting licenses sold annually: 14.5 million
NRA State Associations and Local Clubs: Over 12,000
NRA Target Shooting Tournaments annually: Over 12,000
NRA Certified Instructors and Range Safety Officers: 112,000
Individuals Attending an NRA Firearm Course annually: Over 800,000
NRA Law Enforcement Firearm Instructors: Over 12,000
NRA Certified Competitive Shooting Coaches: 5,000