(Sept. 5, 2016) The Second Amendment is not “in danger.” It has already been gravely wounded.
This election season, there has been a lot of talk about the future of the Second Amendment. Some say that this election could mean the “death” of the Second. Concerns of its further degradation in the hands of a hostile Supreme Court are legitimate. However, this creates the wrong frame for the discussion.
The fact is, the Second Amendment has already been violated repeatedly by unconstitutional federal gun control laws dating back decades. And those laws not only infringe on the right of people to keep and bear arms, but they violate other rights as well.
Just recently the Supreme Court “ruled” that a federal law banning gun sales to medical marijuana cardholders (illegal drug users) did not violate the Second Amendment. Medical marijuana is still prohibited under federal law, but dozens of states have decriminalized it in defiance of the feds.
Federal gun control laws have been in effect more or less since the 1934 National Firearms Act (NFA) was enacted. It set up excise taxes for the manufacturing and transfer of certain firearms and required permits for the ownership of weapons including the following:
- Machine guns
- Short barreled rifles
- Short barreled shotguns
The owner of any of these weapons must inform the federal government when they take them across state lines.
It should be noted that the original version of the bill placed a heavy tax on handguns as a way to get around the Second Amendment, something FDR’s Attorney General Homer Cummings openly admitted to a House Committee. The National Rifle Association only dropped their opposition to the bill when this handgun tax was removed.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 requires gun sellers to obtain a federal firearms license to operate legally and banned mail order purchase of firearms. The act also banned the importation of inexpensive handguns known as “Saturday night specials,” which gave poor people access to guns to protect themselves in urban areas.
The act also prohibits:
- People from different states from selling or buying firearms from one another without a license
- Anyone under 21 from purchasing a handgun or handgun ammunition
- Anyone under 18 from purchasing a rifle or rifle ammunition
The law also required owners register the weapons and the owners who purchased them using a federal form called Form 4473. The form contained information on the gun’s model and serial number, along with personal information about the buyer.
The Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA) was passed with the intent of addressing problems with previous federal gun laws after a Senate subcommittee found an incredible 75 percent of ATF prosecutions “were aimed at ordinary citizens who had neither criminal intent nor knowledge, but were enticed by agents into unknowing technical violations.”
While it reopened ammunition orders by mail and banned (in theory, at least) the U.S. Government from keeping a registry directly linking non-NFA firearms to their owners, the law also restricted the sale of machine guns manufactured after that point to the military and law enforcement.
In other words, the law loosened regulations in one area by tightened them in other areas.
Then there’s the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act passed in 1993, which required federal background checks on firearm purchasers, effectively implementing a “guilty until proven innocent” policy concerning gun rights.
In 1994 Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. It included a ban on “assault weapons” that included certain pistols and semi-automatic rifles. Thankfully, the ban only applied to guns made after it took effect. It also contained a sunset clause and allowed to expire in 2004.
Nevertheless, the other laws remain and continue to restrict our gun rights.
If we truly care about the Second Amendment, we can’t just focus on the prospect of new gun control proposals. We must work to end existing ones on the books, too. To speak only of the future is to infer the status quo is acceptable. It also leaves us vulnerable to tolerating new successful gun control measures. It is easy to forget yesterday if we’re continuously focused on tomorrow. Therefore, we must be opposed to all unconstitutional federal gun laws past, present, and future. The laws of today provide the stepping stones for those that may come.
To learn more about these gun control laws, check out my three-part series on gun control in the 20th Century based on Dave Kopel’s “The Great Gun Control War of the 20th Century — And its Lessons for Gun Laws Today.” The series can be read here, here, and here. The ebook version is also available to TAC members. If you’re not a TAC member, now’s the time to sign up!
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