The Gun Laws of the United States make headlines after every violent shooting killing in the nation’s public space. The number of shootings the USA has experienced in its public realms is more this decade. Hence, it is imperative to establish a direct link between these shootings of the availability of guns and arms in public spaces. Gun laws fail to address the intense and current problem of regulating possession of armaments among the citizens of the USA.
The very recent and horrific shooting in the Brooklyn subway station on 12 April 2022 in New York City is one of the latest pieces of evidence.
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Thus, the analysis should be based on what the law and judiciary review on the arms and armaments and possession of guns says. The further availability of guns and armaments also depends on the eligibility of citizens who can possess these armaments.
Federal Statutes on Gun Laws
The power to hold weapons in the United States comes from federal statutes and the right to keep and bear arms. Law under several federal regulations controls access to guns. These laws can regulate the process of manufacturing, trade, possession, transfer, record keeping, transport, and destruction of firearms, ammunition, and firearms accessories. Further, the state agencies and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) enforces these laws.
In addition to the freedom provided by federal gun laws, every state government and some local governments have laws that regulate firearms. The Code of Laws of the United States of America is the official compilation and codification of the U.S.’s general and permanent federal statutes. The federal statutes form the fundamental freedom through their laws regarding the possession of arms and its different processes.
Right to Keep and Bear Arms
Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, protects the right to keep and bear arms in the country. This is a fundamental right. The possession of a gun, being a fundamental right, might have been one of the main reasons for possessing a very high amount of weaponry among citizens of the U.S.
The fundamental right of citizens to possess arms ensures that infringement of this could be very difficult. There needs to be a rethinking of what shall amount to fundamental rights and what should just be rights limited to various state military forces. In the US, a country with an English common law tradition, a written national constitution recognises the right to own and bear arms. When the settlers in the Thirteen Colonies rebelled against British control during the American Revolution, they cited the British Bill of Rights of 1689 as an example.
Gun Laws: A Constitution Guaranteed Right
The U.S. Constitution sets forth these eligibility criteria. Also, each state has laws about an individual’s eligibility to own or possess a firearm. There are many state and federal background checks and licensing requirements. The process of law formulation and law changing is more difficult since the changes are not limited to the Constitution of the US but various individual states. Thus, making the gun laws more liberating in the same process. Controversy continues over what types of people should be excluded, such as those with felony convictions. Even those with severe or violent mental illnesses and those on the federal no-fly list. Laws in these areas vary widely, and their application is evolving.
Who is Eligible to Possess Arms in the United States?
Eligibility under various laws makes it more accessible to the people in the USA.
- Lawful permanent residents of the United States, also known as “green card” holders
- Foreign nationals are lawfully admitted to the U.S. as refugees. And foreign nationals who legally entered the U.S. by non-immigrant visas.
The United States also issues gun licenses to the following people:
- The official representative of a foreign government recognised by the United States government
- An official representative of a government agency to an international organisation with its principal place of business in the United States or is en route to or from another country.
- A foreign government official or well-known foreign guest whom the Department of State has designated
- A foreign law enforcement officer of a friendly foreign government entering the United States on official law enforcement business. The person should receive a waiver from the United States Attorney General. Furthermore, the waiver petition should show this would be in the interests of justice and would not jeopardise public safety.
These eligibility criteria can specifically allow all the citizens and the foreign nationals within the states to possess weapons.
Restrictions and Prohibitions
The Gun Control Act of 1968 in the U.S. has prohibited certain classes of people from various acts. This includes receiving, shipping, carrying, possessing, buying, selling, using, owning, or exchanging firearms or ammunition. Those prohibited from doing so have any individual who is:
- Convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year
- A fugitive from justice
- An unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance
- Adjudicated as a mental defective or has been involuntarily committed to any mental institution
- An illegal alien, i.e., any unlawful person in the United States
Furthermore, a person cannot possess arms and armaments if the person:
- Have been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonourable conditions
- Has renounced his or her United States nationality
- Who is subject to a court order restraining the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of the intimate partner. Or has been convicted of a misdemeanour crime of domestic violence.
These are some of the categories of persons who cannot possess arms. However, if seen in clarity, the scope of a person not having arms and armaments is lesser than the people who can possess and are eligible for further various other processes under the guns and arms law of the United States of America.
Controversiality of Gun Laws
The amount of freedom the gun and arms laws provide has reached a level of liberty with harmful and horrific effects. So many citizens possessing arms in a legal setting has made it more complex and dangerous to the USA’s peace. Moreover, the mass shooting is directly proportional to the number of legally holding weapons. The U.S. Supreme Court gave a landmark decision in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008). The Second Amendment gave every individual the right to keep and bear arms, even if they do not serve in a militia.
According to the Small Arms Survey, an independent research project shows that the U.S. had 120.5 guns per 100 residents in 2017. Also, in the 2018 survey, the U.S. has less than 5 per cent of the earth’s population but more than 46 per cent of civilian-owned guns.
Gun laws may vary from state to state, as each state’s constitution empowers it to set its gun law. However, the laws of most states are almost the same as Article 2 of the Constitutional Amendment. California, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York are some states that have strict laws on gun control. Nevertheless, that does not counter the argument that the possession of arms is legal for most citizens and is a guaranteed fundamental right by both the nation’s and individual states’ laws and the constitution.
Thus the main concern is to not declare possession and process regarding weapons as a fundamental right given by the country. However, efforts should be made to limit the use for military purposes only. Furthermore, there should be strict actions and vigilance to reduce mass shootings. Therefore, a balance between laws, freedom and security should be maintained to prevent the repercussion of the existing guns and arms law.
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About the Author
Yashi is an aspiring journalist and also a passionate writer. She is doing her bachelor’s in journalism, public policy and international relations. Yashi aims to integrate her writing skills with her passion for international relations by interning with “The International Prism”.