Firearms Control

November 11, 1959

Report Outline
Deadly Weapons and the Public Safety
State and Federal Regulatory Laws
Place of Firearms in Community Life

Deadly Weapons and the Public Safety

Abuse of Firearms vs. the Right to Bear Arms

Outbreaks of juvenile violence in American cities have brought fresh support for proposals to tighten public control over private ownership of firearms. The apparent ease with which young hoodlums can get guns and other lethal weapons is not the sole cause of concern. The daily newspapers record tragedy after tragedy resulting from lawful ownership of firearms—family quarrels terminated by gunshot, accidents in handling rifles or revolvers thought to be unloaded, seemingly normal individuals going suddenly berserk and firing into crowds. Reports of this kind add fuel to the demand for more stringent regulatory laws.

Agitation for new restrictive legislation almost invariably touches off protests from organizations like the National Rifle Association. These groups, which include sportsmen's associations and representatives of the firearms industry, assert that proposed ownership restrictions would not keep deadly weapons out of the hands of the lawless but would make it harder for law-abiding persons to defend themselves. The remedy, they insist, is more effective promotion of safety precautions and more effective training in proper use of firearms.

Those who object to rigid restrictions on private ownership of firearms frequently point out that the Constitution protects “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” The Constitution, however, relates that right to maintenance of “a well regulated militia,” and the Supreme Court has held that a provision of the National Firearms Act of 1934 forbidding movement in interstate commerce of unregistered shotguns does not infringe the constitutional right because it has no reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia. The federal constitutional provision is a limitation only upon the power of Congress, not upon powers of the states, although a similar provision appears in many state constitutions. State statutes prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons have been specifically upheld. All told, neither federal nor state constitutional mandates appear to impose serious restraints on regulatory control of firearms.

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