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The Escalation of Gun Culture in America

Guns are embedded in American culture; it is difficult to deny the critical role they have played in the nation’s history, because Americans have used guns to settle disputes. The early settlement time period to the present day shows American culture’s connection to guns in many ways such as; the Minuteman’s Muzzleloader, the Colt Revolver (the gun that won the west) the Sharp Rifle (the weapon of choice of those who slaughtered the buffalo, and, as surplus, after WWII became broadly used by American deer hunters), and the Service Revolver that was the standard for all police officers in the nation until the 1980s. Americans have voiced concern about their gun-toting neighbors for a long time. The debate over private ownership of guns has developed into a battlefield for the “culture war” that has characterized American society since the 1960s.

Although domestic and global opinions of guns differ, the majority of Americans support limitations on gun laws, especially, assault-type weapons and handguns. Many Americans would agree that anyone should have the right to protect themselves and their family from an attacker. However, many firearms in private possession are hunting and target guns that are not intended for personal protection. Even among anti-gun advocates there is some debate about gun ownership regarding the two classes of weapons: those for personal protection and those for recreation. The suppression of crime for much of the history has been identified as the responsibility of state and/or local government.

The federal government derives its regulatory authority and enforcement from its power to tax and regulate interstate and foreign commerce. Historically, gun laws and regulations have been controversial and passed during times of highly publicized criminal activity. In response to the murder of New York City’s mayor, the state of New York State passed the “Sullivan Act” of 1911. This law required the issuance of licenses to persons desiring to lawfully possess firearms. In 1927, Congress passed the first federal gun law prohibiting the sale of handguns to individuals through the mail.

In response to prohibition era gang violence, the first significant federal firearms legislation, passed in 1934, was the National Firearms Act (NFA). The NFA required manufacturers, importers and dealers to register with the government and pay an annual occupational tax. In addition, it required individuals who owned such firearms to register them with the government and pay tax on the transfer of their firearms. This legislation was designed to discourage ownership and the use of machineguns, silencers, sawed-off shotguns and other unconventional firearms.

The Federal Firearms Act (FFA) of 1938, unlike the NFA, was the result of President Roosevelt’s desire to further regulate all firearms. The FFA required that manufacturers, importers and dealers obtain a license and maintain sales records of firearms buyers. Dealers were prohibited from shipping firearms via interstate commerce to prohibit potential buyers such as felons, fugitives, individuals under indictment or lacking a required state or local license to purchase firearms, if needed. The FFA prohibited the shipping of stolen firearms via interstate commerce or with altered serial numbers. In 1957, the FFA was amended with the intent to correct deficiencies.

The Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed in response to the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The assassination of President Kennedy (five years earlier), the 1966 University of Texas campus shooting, racial unrest and concern about rising crime rates were other incidents that influenced the legislation and contributed to its passage. The primary purpose of the Gun Control Act of 1968 was to provide support to federal, state, and local law enforcement officials in their fight against crime and violence. The fear of rising crime urged Congress to pass the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act (OCCSSA) of 1968. The OCCSSA is a crime bill that contains firearms provisions. In passing the OCCSS Act, Congress declared in part that “the ease with which any person can acquire firearms other than a rifle or shotgun is a significant factor in the prevalence of violent crime in the United States.” The new law banned the interstate shipment of handguns, established residence requirements for purchasers of handguns, and prohibited the receipt and possession of firearms by felons, mental incompetents, dishonorably discharged veterans, illegal aliens, and individuals who renounced their citizenship.

President Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady was shot during an assassination attempt on Reagan in March of 1981. As a result, Bill Clinton signed into law “The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act” of 1993. Also known as the Brady Law, it amended the Gun Control Act of 1968. The Brady Law was passed with the intent to established a 5-day waiting to period allow for a criminal background check on gun purchasers. This law was responsible for implementing the current National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). One year later, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (VCCLEA) of 1994 barred the manufacture, sale and possession of certain types of firearms classified as “assault” weapons for a period of 10 years. The transfer or possessions of large capacity ammunition feeding devices was also barred. The VCCLEA also amended the Gun Control Act of 1968; however, the Act has expired and has not been renewed.

The gun-show loophole refers to private sales conducted at gun-shows that are not subject to pre-sale criminal background checks. Such sales are often cited as a means for prohibited persons, ineligible buyers, and persons who seek firearms for criminal purposes to acquire firearms. The secondary firearms market presents a public safety concern. The secondary gun market consists of those firearms acquired and transferred by unlicensed persons. By virtue of being unregulated, secondary market transfers are conducted without background checks or proper identification and record keeping requirements. As a result, such markets are often exploited by prohibited persons and those who present a high risk of criminally misusing firearms.

Currently, the Brady Campaign works to pass and enforce sensible federal and state gun laws, regulations, and public policies through grassroots activism, electing public officials who support common sense gun laws, and increasing public awareness of gun violence (Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 2012). To prevent gun violence, the Brady Campaign focuses on closing the Gun-Show loophole, defeating a National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act, preventing the carrying of concealed guns on college campuses, reinstituting the Assault Weapons Ban, and limiting the number of firearms that can be purchased in a single transaction.

The most significant fact about public opinion on gun control has been its extraordinary reliability in support of greater government control of guns. The vast majority of Americans have favored some type of action for the control of civilian firearms ownership since the establishment of modern polling. Firearm laws and regulations along with other firearm intervention policies are intended to increase the difficulty of acquiring firearms by prohibited persons, gun traffickers and others who seek to use them to commit crimes. Substitution is a principal motivator for gun traffickers. Substitution is a conceptual perception that criminals have many sources and a variety of alternative methods for acquiring firearms. The effectiveness of laws, regulations and other policies can be evaluated by measuring a criminals’ accessibility to firearms from alternative or substitute sources.