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Gun Control Overview
Prevalence of Gun Use and the Regulatory Response

T

hrough the years, legislative proposals to restrict the
availability of firearms to the public have raised the
following questions: What restrictions on firearms are permissible under the Constitution? Does gun control constitute crime control? Can the Nation’s rates of homicide, robbery, and assault be reduced by the stricter regulation

of firearms commerce or ownership? Would restrictions
stop attacks on public figures or thwart deranged persons
and terrorists? Would household, street corner, and
schoolyard disputes be less lethal if firearms were more
difficult and expensive to acquire? Would more restrictive
gun control policies have the unintended effect of impairing citizens’ means of self-defense? In recent years, proponents of gun control legislation
have often held that only Federal laws can be effective in
the United States. Otherwise, they say, States with few
restrictions will continue to be sources of guns that flow
illegally into more-restrictive States. They believe that the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which States that
“[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,” is being misread in today’s modern society.
They argue that the Second Amendment (1) is now
obsolete, with the presence of professional police forces;
(2) was intended solely to guard against suppression of
State militias by the central government and is therefore
restricted in scope by that intent; and (3) does not guarantee a right that is absolute, but rather one that can be limited by reasonable requirements. They ask why in
today’s modern society a private citizen needs any firearm that is not designed primarily for hunting or other recognized sporting purposes. Proponents of firearms restrictions have advocated policy

changes on specific types of firearms or components that
they believe are useful primarily for criminal purposes or
that pose unusual risks to the public. Fully automatic firearms (i.e., machine guns) and short-barreled rifles and shot-

From the Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service report Gun Control Legislation, November 14, 2012. See http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32842.pdf.

guns have been subject to strict regulation since 1934. Fully automatic firearms have been banned from private possession since 1986, except for those legally owned and registered with the secretary of the treasury as of May 19, 1986. More recently, “Saturday night specials” (loosely defined as inexpensive, small handguns), “assault weapons,” ammunition-feeding devices with capacities for more than

seven rounds, and certain ammunition have been the focus of control efforts. Opponents of gun control vary in their positions with
respect to specific forms of control but generally hold that gun control laws do not accomplish what is intended. They
argue that it is difficult to keep weapons from being acquired by “high-risk” individuals, even under Federal laws and enforcement, as it was to stop the sale and use of liquor during Prohibition. In their view, a more stringent Federal firearms regulatory system would only create problems for law-abiding citizens, bring mounting frustration and escalation of bans by gun regulators, and possibly

threaten citizens’ civil rights or safety.
Some argue that the low violent crime rates of other
countries have nothing to do with gun control, maintaining instead that multiple cultural differences are responsible. Gun control opponents also reject the assumption that
the only legitimate purpose of ownership by a private citizen is recreational (i.e., hunting and target-shooting). They insist on the continuing need of people for effective means
to defend themselves and their property, and they point
to studies that they believe show that gun possession lowers the incidence of crime....
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