The Changing Vision of Gun Ownership in America
Gun controls a losing issue in America
Gun violence in Buffalo, New York, and the killing of 19 children and two teachers this week in Uvalde, Texas has raised the issue of gun control once again, and more Americans advocating universal gun background checks.
But the political chemistry has changed. Senate Majority leader Senator Schumer promised a vote on gun registration on Wednesday, only to step back as it became evident that too many of his Democratic senators were from pro-gun states and could very well lose in November.
This is a far cry from 31 years ago. Retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Warren Burger called the idea that the Second Amendment of the US Constitution granted a personal right to bear arms “one of the greatest pieces of fraud.” A couple of years later, the US Congress passed a law that restricted so-called Assault Rifles.
The issue has changed dramatically. The Assault gun ban is no longer in effect and the Supreme Court has ruled that the Right to Bear Arms is a personal right granted by the US Constitution in the 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller. The case McDonald v. Chicago expanded that right in terms of what the states could or couldn’t do.
Meanwhile, half the states have passed laws that say any adult who can own a firearm can carry a weapon when he is out in public. This is called Constitutional Carry and it doesn’t require any permit from the government.
Some other states require a permit to carry a firearm, but mandate that the police issue a permit to any law-abiding citizen that requests one.
Now there is another case that will be ruled upon in the next few weeks – New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen that court observers think will push the right to own and carry a weapon even further, by easing licensing requirements.
So, what do the American people think? Polling is suspect as many pro and anti-gun organizations craft polls that will show that Americans support their ideas. However, a Rasmussen Poll released this week, before the Texas shooting, but after the Buffalo shooting showed that 50% of Americans don’t think stricter gun control would help stop mass shootings.
There is a better judge of Americans’ ideas about firearms. That is the FBI instant background check that shows the number and demographics of buyers of firearms from licensed firearms dealers. What it shows is that Americans are becoming more firearms “friendly” and less prone to believe in gun control.
No wonder the United States has more firearms than people. Organizations estimate America has about 400 million firearms in private hands.
However, these changes have taken decades. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was an increasing look by scholars at the Second Amendment and how it was viewed by the writers of the Constitution. The evidence that they viewed the right as a personal one has grown so much that even gun control supporters admit the pro-gun views of the Founding Fathers. Now they argue that the Second Amendment doesn’t fit in the modern age and its urban setting.
The view that the writers of the Constitution saw firearms ownership as a personal right was at the center of the Heller ruling in 2008.
But it is more than the Supreme Court that now holds this opinion. The American people have taken gun ownership to heart in the last generation.
2008 opened many American’s eyes that the economic systems that are taken for granted were fragile and could disappear. If emergency services and systems break down, then the only person who can defend one’s family is oneself. Self-protection always outweighs issues like gun control.
Next was the Covid virus and pandemic. Government mandates, passports, lockdowns, etc., reinforced the need to protect one’s family, especially since there was a breakdown in essential services. There was also the concern of government tyranny in the heavy-handed way the epidemic was handled.
Many saw the potential need to escape from Covid infested urban areas and recognized that a firearm was not only a protector, but a potential food provider when the supply chain broke down. Others, who had fled gun control states like New York ended up in gun friendly states like Florida and discovered that guns were much easier to buy and, consequently, became pro-gun. The BLM protests and the violence occurred in some places convinced many big city residents that a firearm was the only thing that stood between one’s home and rioters.
As a result, the profile of the typical American gun owner is changing. This is seen in the data from the FBI’s firearms background checks.
In 2020, the FBI reported that about 40 million guns were purchased by American citizens.
In 2020, nearly 40% of gun purchases were from new firearms owners. That was 8.4 million Americans. Nearly 30% of the firearms sold in 2021 were to new gun owners. That is 5.4 million Americans.
In 2020, there was a 58% increase in Blacks buying firearms over the previous year.
Of the new firearms owners in 2021, one third were women. Of the new female firearms owners in 2020, 23% came back in 2021 to buy another firearm.
42.2% of all gun owners are women. This is a dramatic increase as previous information showed that only 10% to 20% of women were gun owners.
The idea that only whites own guns is going away. 37% of Black and 26% of Hispanic households own firearms. The biggest firearms sales in terms of percentages were from black men and women (58.2% increase in 2020).
Gun ownership is becoming popular across races and genders.
As gun ownership has increased in the US, old ideas of gun control are now challenged.
Advocates of gun ownership are claiming that universal gun registration is impractical. Not only is the idea of successfully managing 400 million firearms in a bureaucracy unthinkable, the idea of registering something that is considered a personal constitutional right is probably unconstitutional.
Red flag laws are also unlikely to pass constitutional muster although they are being considered due to the recent shootings. In America, a person is innocent until proven guilty. This means that to take someone’s right to bear arms away, there needs to be some legal proceeding where the gun owner can defend himself. Letting police, relations or other professionals arbitrarily decide who can own a gun strikes at American legal principles.
Others suggest that any sale of a firearm should require a background check. At this time, that is impossible given the laws surrounding the FBI instant check. The current system is frequently overloaded and forcing the same system to handle 400 million firearms would be unmanageable.
Others say anyone on the airline terrorist threat list should be unable to buy a firearm. However, putting someone on that list is easy and doesn’t require any proof of guilt. There have been cases of well-known politicians like Senator Ted Kennedy being put on the list accidentally.
Pro-Gun advocates argue that allowing teachers to carry firearms in school would stop many school shootings.
There is very little area for agreement. That is why Biden is using regulations and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and firearms (BATF) to restrict firearms. However, since many of these regulations violate federal law, it is likely that these regulations will inevitably be declared unconstitutional.
How much Congress will do is questionable? Senate Minority Leader Senator McConnell has asked Texas Senator Cornyn to meet to find a bipartisan bill that could pass the Senate. However, the legislation will be narrowly focused. Senator McConnell stated that he wanted, “legislation that directly addresses the circumstances of the school shooting in Texas and does not advance the Democratic agenda.”
That will limit the scope of any legislation since the Democrats are talking about drastic gun control legislation.
Despite the outcries of politicians and world leaders calling for gun control in the US, Americans will continue to cling to their guns. Not only that, given the changing demographics of gun owners and the movement by states to loosen restrictions on carrying a firearm, gun ownership will probably blossom soon.
In fact, the call for gun restrictions this week will likely boost gun sales this month. As has been seen in the past, the best way to boost gun sales is for the government to threaten to take American’s guns.
Will anything change with the latest killings? As far as dramatic gun control goes, no. Americans are a different breed and firearms ownership is the ultimate sign of sovereignty.
Americans will not give that up.