The Politics of Gun Control in the United States - Foundation Office Washington, D.C.
As the debate on further gun control regulations continues, it is important to note that current gun control policies stem from several parts of U.S. Federal law, starting with the U.S. constitution (Second Amendment): "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." In 2008, the most significant gun-policy decision was handed down by the Supreme Court in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, which determined that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm, and McDonald v. Chicago, which applied the ruling to the states. It was the first Supreme Court case in United States history to decide whether the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms for self defense. Gun owners, represented by the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), have jealously guarded this right and opposed any proposed law they see as diluting it. A large surge of court cases was seen in lower federal courts in the aftermath of the 2008 ruling. Over 80 cases have been filed seeking to overturn existing gun laws. With remarkable consistency, the existing gun laws have been repeatedly upheld as being constitutional with the net effect that very little has changed as result of the Supreme Court ruling.
Two other important Federal gun control policies are the Brady Law and the Assault Weapons Ban. The Brady Law went into effect in 1994 requiring a criminal background check before a handgun could be sold to a buyer. Named after Jim Brady, the press secretary to then-President Ronald Reagan, who was seriously wounded in the assassination attempt on the president in 1981, it established a national instant criminal background check system. The system keeps records on criminals and the mentally unfit so they can be denied guns. In 2008, after the Virginia Tech massacre by a disturbed student who should have been barred from purchasing a gun, a new law was passed offering funding to states to improve the records in the criminal background system, though many states including Arizona are still not up to date.
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