The phrase gun control refers to efforts to restrict the rights of private citizens and groups to self-defense with firearms and restrictions on which types of firearms can be owned or who may legally own them. Gun control is promoted by various statist philosophies such as Communism, Socialism, and Fascism. It is also promoted by people who believe individual freedoms should be restricted in the name of "public safety" or a greater "public good", and by governments in general wishing to expand their power over citizens by limiting firearms ownership to government agencies such as the police and military.
The end effect of gun control laws is the concentration of firearms ownership in the hands of the state.
Racist Motivations for Gun Control Laws
In the United States, gun control has a history of strong racist origin and reasoning. Before the Civil War ended, State "Slave Codes" prohibited slaves from owning guns. After President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and after the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery was adopted and the Civil War ended in 1865, States persisted in prohibiting blacks, now freemen, from owning guns under laws renamed "Black Codes." They did so on the basis that blacks were not citizens, and thus did not have the same rights, including the right to keep and bear arms protected in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as whites. This view was specifically articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in its infamous 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford to uphold slavery.
The United States Congress overrode most portions of the Black Codes by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The legislative histories of both the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as The Special Report of the Anti-Slavery Conference of 1867, are replete with denunciations of those particular statutes that denied blacks equal access to firearms. [Kates, "Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment," 82 Mich. L. Rev. 204, 256 (1983)] However, facially neutral disarming through economic means laws remain in effect.
After the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1878, most States turned to "facially neutral" business or transaction taxes on handgun purchases. However, the intention of these laws was not neutral. An article in Virginia's official university law review called for a "prohibitive tax...on the privilege" of selling handguns as a way of disarming "the son of Ham," whose "cowardly practice of 'toting' guns has been one of the most fruitful sources of crime.... Let a negro board a railroad train with a quart of mean whiskey and a pistol in his grip and the chances are that there will be a murder, or at least a row, before he alights." [Comment, Carrying Concealed Weapons, 15 Va L. Reg. 391, 391-92 (1909); George Mason University Civil Rights Law Journal (GMU CR LJ), Vol. 2, No. 1, "Gun Control and Racism," Stefan Tahmassebi, 1991, p. 75] Thus, many Southern States imposed high taxes or banned inexpensive guns so as to price blacks and poor whites out of the gun market.
The National Firearms Act of 1934 placed an essentially prohibitive licensing and taxation scheme on automatic rifles and so-called "sawed-off" shotguns, seeking to restrict their ownership.
Modern Gun Control Statutes
In the United States, the Gun Control Act of 1968 forms the basic national gun control law, with the restrictions amended or added to in subsequent laws such as the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986 and the Brady Bill. The Gun Control Act of 1968 essentially banned the interstate sale of firearms through the mail and created various arbitrary categories of persons prohibited from owning a firearm. The Firearms Owners Protection Act includes a ban on the licensing of new automatic weapons under the National Firearms Act for automatic rifles manufactured after May 1986. The Brady Bill requires would-be purchasers of firearms to submit to a "background check". The prohibited persons categories created by the Gun Control Act of 1968 have been since copied wholesale into other laws restricting people from working in jobs (such as trucking or railroads) transporting hazardous materials, being granted a "security clearance" by the federal government, or purchasing and using explosive materials.
A ban on so-called "assault weapons" adopted during the 1990s which was based solely on the outward appearance of the firearm was later allowed to expire, and has not been renewed.
Today, "gun control" laws continue to be enacted so as to have a racist effect if not intent:
- Police-issued license and permit laws, unless drafted to require issuance to those not prohibited by law from owning guns, are routinely used to prevent lawful gun ownership among "unpopular" populations.
- Public housing residents, approximately 3 million Americans, are singled out for gun bans.
- "Gun sweeps" by police in "high crime neighborhoods" whereby vehicles and "pedestrians who meet a specific profile that might indicate they are carrying a weapon" are searched are becoming popular, and are being studied by the U.S. Department of Justice as "Operation Ceasefire."
- Some U.S. cities with high minority populations, such as Washington, D.C., are singled out for gun bans.
- "Project Exile" began in the U.S. city of Richmond, Virginia and mandated that people arrested for technical firearms violations (note: not for violent crimes committed with a firearm, but for technical violations of the law) be tried in federal court where they would be subject to lengthy mandatory minimum sentences rather than in state court under the more lenient Virginia laws. As with many other restrictions this was aimed primarily at the city's Black residents. It has since been copied in many other cities. It was strongly supported by the NRA's leadership.
Concealed Carry and Open Carry
Many gun control laws enacted on the state level seek to restrict the carrying of handguns in public for self-defense.
Two categories of carrying a handgun in public are known as "concealed carry" and "open carry". Concealed carry is the carrying of a concealed firearm, open carry is the carrying of a firearm in open view, such as in a holster.
Open carry of handgun on ones person is legal without a government permit in a handful of U.S. states such as Arizona.
Concealed carry without a permit is legally allowed in the U.S. state of Vermont. In most other states until recently, persons wishing to carry a concealed handgun had to submit to a lengthy and arbitrary process of being granted a permit by the state, which was often refused. A recent trend has been to liberalize these laws by requiring the government to issue concealed carry permits to most persons who apply for them. These are known as "shall issue" laws and have been enacted in most states. However for most libertarians this is insufficient, as the right to carry a firearm for self-defense purposes is a human right that should not require a permit from the government, and favor Vermont-style concealed carry and Arizona-style open carry policies in all 50 states.
In Other Countries
Gun registration is a form of gun control that has historically led to confiscations and then outright bans on private ownership of firearms. In recent years this has happened in Great Britain and Australia among other countries. Canada has also enacted a gun registration policy but thus far has successfully resisted the expansion of this into a total confiscation and ban.
Recently the citizens of Brazil, a country that like the United States has a long tradition of private firearms ownership, voted down a national gun ban.
Recent activity by the United Nations and some pressure groups has been directed at attempts to control international "firearms trafficking". These efforts are being closely watched and opposed by gun rights groups as probable attempts at furthering restrictions on the individual right of self-defense, and concentration of firearms ownership in the hands of the state.
Other terms sometimes used in place of "gun control" to more accurately describe these laws include:
- Rights restriction
- Victim disarmament