The Federal Government has restricted the sale of many different types of arms, but has always stopped short of banning gun ownership outright, primarily because of the fundamental arguments of the Second Amendment and the irrevocable nature of the Constitution's Bill of Rights as integral to our nation's foundational document. Threats to interpretation have, however been many, and some legislation has gone into effect restricting classes and types of weapons which citizens can legally own.
Countybear seems to be really up on law and philosophy, so I thought he might know the history and rationale the government has used to address the fact that "arms" now includes so much more than guns and swords. I was asking out of honest intellectual curiosity, nothing more. I'll stop being lazy and research the issue myself; I'm sure the material is readily available. :)
There are two sides to the issue of the Second Amendment, and the debate still rages. Example:
- The United States Supreme Court and lower federal courts have consistently interpreted this Amendment only as a prohibition against Federal interference with State militia and not as a guarantee of an individual's right to keep or carry firearms. The argument that the Second Amendment prohibits all State or Federal regulation of citizen's ownership of firearms has no validity whatsoever.
- American Bar Association Coordinating Committee on Gun Violence, "Second Amendment Issues"
We have noted that there is no unequivocal precedent that
Fraternal Order of Police v. United States (F.O.P. II)
dictates the outcome of this case. This Court has never decided
whether the Second Amendment protects an individual or
collective right to keep and bear arms. On one occasion we
anticipated an argument about the scope of the Second
Amendment, but because the issue had not been properly raised
by appellants, we assumed the applicability of the collective
right interpretation then urged by the federal government.
, 173 F.3d
898, 906 (D.C. Cir. 1999). The Supreme Court has not decided
this issue either. See id. As we have said, the leading Second
Amendment case in the Supreme Court is United States v.
Miller. While Miller is our best guide, the Supreme Court’s
other statements on the Second Amendment warrant mention.
Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), the Court
asserted the applicability of the Bill of Rights to the territories
in the following terms:
[N]o one . . . will contend that Congress can make any
law in a Territory respecting the establishment of
religion, or the free exercise thereof, or abridging the
freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the
people of the Territory peaceably to assemble, and to
petition the Government for the redress of grievances.
. . . [n]or can Congress deny to the people the right to
keep and bear arms, nor the right to trial by jury, nor
compel any one to be a witness against himself in a
criminal proceeding . . . . These powers . . . in relation
to rights of person . . . are, in express and positive
terms, denied to the General Government.
at 450 (emphasis added). Although Dred Scott is as
infamous as it was erroneous in holding that African-Americans
are not citizens, this passage expresses the view, albeit in
passing, that the Second Amendment contains a personal right.
It is included among other individual rights, such as the right to
trial by jury and the privilege against self-incrimination. The
other Second Amendment cases of the mid-nineteenth century
did not touch upon the individual versus collective nature of the
Amendment’s guarantee... - Parker v. DC, USCA DC Circuit, March 9, 2007
It is still legal for a citizen (not otherwise disqualified from ownership) to posess even fully-automatic weapons, however the taxes, fees, and privacy surrender accompanying a Class III license (which is required for such weapons) are usually very prohibitive in nature unless the applicant is a professional dealer of such items. There are a lot of hoops to jump through.
The ownership of explosives, etc. are also very closely regulated, but under separate acts by the government. Businesses dealing in demolition, mining, and some specialized forms of construction, as well as Hollywood special effects companies are legally allowed to possess and use nearly all classes of high explosives once obtaining the proper permit, exhibiting stringent security and storage procedures, undergoing inspections, and paying the fees required.
Below is a summary of red-letter dates relating to gun legislation in America.
1791Second Amendment Ratified It states, "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." See U.S. Constitution.
1871National Rifle Association Founded Union soldiers Col. William C. Church and Gen. George Wingate found the NRA to "promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis." Civil War Gen. Ambrose Burnside, who was also the former governor of Rhode Island and a U.S. Senator, serves as the organization's first president.
1934National Firearms Act Brought about by the lawlessness and rise of gangster culture during prohibition, President Franklin D. Roosevelt hoped this act would eliminate automatic-fire weapons like machine guns from America's streets. Other firearms such as short-barreled shotguns and rifles, parts of guns like silencers, as well as other "gadget-type" firearms hidden in canes and such were also targeted. All gun sales and gun manufacturers were slapped with a $200 tax (no small amount for Americans mired in the Great Depression; that would be like a tax of $2,525 today) on each firearm, and all buyers were required to fill out paperwork subject to Treasury Dept. approval.
1938Federal Firearms Act Congress aimed this law at those involved in selling and shipping firearms through interstate or foreign commerce channels. Anyone involved in the selling of firearms was required to obtain a Federal Firearms License from the Secretary of Commerce ($1 annual fee). They were also required to record the names and addresses of everyone they sold guns to and were prohibited from selling to those people who were convicted of certain crimes or lacked a permit.
1968Gun Control Act
The assassination of John F. Kennedy, who was killed by a mail-order gun that belonged to Lee Harvey Oswald, inspired this major revision to federal gun laws. The subsequent assasinations of Martin Luther King
and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy
fueled its quick passage. License requirements were expanded to include more dealers
, and more detailed record keeping
was expected of them; handgun sales over state lines
were restricted; the list of persons dealers could not sell to grew to include those convicted of felonies
(with some exceptions), those found mentally incompetent
, drug users
and more. The act also defined persons who were banned from possessing firearms.
The key element of this bill outlawed mail order sales of rifles and shotguns; Up until this law, mail order consumers only had to sign a statement that they were over 21 years of age for a handgun (18 for rifle or shotgun); it also detailed more persons who were banned from possessing certain guns, including drug users, and further restricted shotgun and rifles sales.
1972Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms created Enforcement of the Gun Control Act was given to the Dept. of the Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division of the Internal Revenue Service. The organization replaced "tax" with "firearms," nearly doubled in size, and became the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).
1986Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act Made it illegal for anyone to manufacture or import armor piercing ammunition, or "cop-killer bullets," which are capable of penetrating bulletproof clothing. Firearms Owners' Protection Act Eased restrictions on gun sellers and the sale of some guns. Imposed additional penalties for persons using a firearm during certain crimes and persons with robbery or burglary convictions who are illegally shipping guns.
1990Crime Control Act Directed the attorney general to develop a strategy for establishing "drug-free school zones," including criminal penalties for possessing or discharging a firearm in a school zone. Outlawed the assembly of illegal semiautomatic rifles or shotguns from legally imported parts.
1994Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act Imposed, on an interim basis, a five-day waiting period and background check before a licensed gun importer, manufacturer or dealer can sell or deliver a handgun to an unlicensed individual.
Required a new National Instant Criminal Background Check System, run by the FBI, be ready to replace the waiting period by Nov. 30, 1998. The new background check system will apply to all firearms and will allow checks to be done over the phone or electronically with results returned immediately in most cases. Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act Commonly referred to as the "Assault Weapons Ban," this bill banned the manufacture, possession, and importation of new semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition feeding devices (or magazines) for civilian use.
Criteria for semiautomatic assault weapons that fall under the ban are provided as well as a list of 19 specific firearms.
Prohibits juveniles from possessing or selling handguns and directs the attorney general to evaluate proposed and existing state juvenile gun laws
Hope this helps.