The Gun Control Debate
The gun control debate in America is a battle between personal freedom and public safety. For nearly 160 years, there were no limits to the Second Amendment, which guarantees "the right of the people to keep and bear arms." In 1934, however, and especially in the last four decades, Americans have begun to proscribe and debate the extent of that right. The National Firearms Act of 1934 was the first restriction on gun rights in American history. As a result, fully automatic weapons are available only after an extensive background check on the owner.
In 1968, the term "gun control" gained new meaning with the passage of the federal Gun Control Act. Ratified in the wake of two important political assassinations -- Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. -- the Act requires that all guns carry serial numbers forever tied to the original purchaser. Additionally, it prohibited gun ownership by convicted felons and, as a result of a 1990s amendment, it requires a criminal background check for purchasers at the time of sale.
Certain states have their own gun control legislation, although all are governed by the federal Act of 1968. Individual states can deem their own levels of restriction on concealed weapons and ?open carry,? or the visible transporting of a weapon. And restrictions vary widely by state, with New York and Illinois seen as the most restrictive and Arizona and Texas, the most relaxed.
The latest incarnation of the gun control debate has been in the form of the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, which Congress failed to uphold in its latest session. The law prohibited the sale of any semi-automatic assault weapons manufactured after 1994. Supporters of the ban said it helped keep violent weapons off the street, while opponents claimed it imposed a confusing classification system, was overly restrictive and had little effect on controlling violent crime.
Gun rights advocates argue that a well-armed public helps prevent crime and ensure personal safety. Gun control proponents, on the other hand, fear that widespread gun ownership actually increases crime rates and leads to other negative outcomes, both public and private. Is the Second Amendment out-of-date, or does it guarantee an integral right?
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