[According to an October 2011 Gallup poll, a] record-low 26% of Americans favor a legal ban on the possession of handguns in the United States other than by police and other authorized people. When Gallup first asked Americans this question in 1959, 60% favored banning handguns. But since 1975, the majority of Americans have opposed such a measure, with opposition around 70% in recent years.
[According to an October 2011 Gallup poll,] forty-seven percent of American adults currently report that they have a gun in their home or elsewhere on their property. This is up from 41% a year ago and is the highest Gallup has recorded since 1993, albeit marginally above the 44% and 45% highs seen during that period.
Some cities, like Chicago and the District of Columbia, would like to ban all handguns, believing that doing so reduces crime. Other cities, like those in the Deep South and the West, feel differently and have even flirted with laws requiring people to own guns.
In District of Columbia v. Heller, the final opinion of the Supreme Court's 2007-08 term, Justice Antonin Scalia re-wrote Second Amendment jurisprudence. With a 5-4 majority, Scalia held unequivocally for Mr. Heller on two central questions: First, the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm, unconnected with militia service, and to use it in the home for self-defense. Second, all three of the D.C. laws that Heller challenged are unconstitutional: (a) the outright ban on handguns acquired after 1976, (b) the ban on carrying pre-1976 handguns from room to room without a permit, which cannot be obtained, and (c) the requirement that rifles and shotguns in the home must be unloaded and either disassembled or trigger-locked.
But in writing for a majority of the Supreme Court in Heller, Justice Scalia did not openly embrace popular constitutionalism (although he has done so before, most famously in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas). Instead, he claimed to rely on textualism and originalism, and, in the process, produced a decidedly disingenuous and unprincipled opinion. From the standpoint of an academically trained historian, Justice Scalia's reasoning in Heller is objectively untenable in that it privileges the current Court's fixation with libertarian individualism over the framers' civic republican focus on the organized militia as a preferred alternative to a dangerous standing army and military establishment.
The Supreme Court’s decision in McDonald v. Chicago came in this week, with Justice Samuel Alito writing for a plurality that the Second Amendment right to own guns applies to all levels of government—in the legal lingo, that the right is “incorporated” against the states via the 14th Amendment.
Perhaps the most significant consequence of McDonald is that the Second Amendment right to arms is now part of ordinary constitutional law. That fact represents quite a change from the status quo ante. For most of its existence, the Second Amendment did no real work, and was seldom cited — and never followed — in court. One reason for its late appearance, of course, is that gun control laws were (with the significant exception of Jim Crow enactments) a product of the twentieth century. With no federal gun control laws, and no doctrine of incorporation, the first century-plus after the Second Amendment's ratification offered few opportunities for judicial implementation.
In 2010, when a national sample of U.S. adults were asked about gun control, 50 percent responded that controlling gun ownership was more important than protecting the rights of gun owners, 47 percent the reverse. Those concerned with protecting the rights of gun owners were more likely to be Republican, non-Hispanic, and men with high school degrees living in a southern state than their respective counterparts.
Yet we’ve also always had gun control. The Founding Fathers instituted gun laws so intrusive that, were they running for office today, the NRA would not endorse them. While they did not care to completely disarm the citizenry, the founding generation denied gun ownership to many people: not only slaves and free blacks, but law-abiding white men who refused to swear loyalty to the Revolution.
One of the initial acts of Parliament after the accession of William and Mary to the throne of England as a result of the Revolution of 1688 was to reinstate the old constitution with its stipulation that every man be armed for self-defense. Unfortunately, King George III became embroiled in so many military ventures early in his reign that he quickly shifted England’s focus back to standing armies and away from militias. British colonists brought their English distrust of concentrated military power with them to the Americas. They saw power concentrated in the hands of government as a threat to civil liberties and thus integrated the tradition of the citizen-soldier into their colonial charters.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 imposes broad regulation on the interstate commerce and ownership of firearms. GCA68 established the FFL system, defined prohibited persons, and restricted the importation of certain types of firearms. GCA68 also imposes a minimum age of 21 years in order to purchase a handgun from a dealer and stipulates that handguns must be purchased in the purchaser's state of residence. This last provision enables states to enact restriction including waiting periods and approved handguns lists.