Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Essay on Gun Legislation

Essay on Gun Legislation

Gun legislation is an opinionated subject that invokes a strong emotion from citizens, while for others it has no affect. The public is constantly being torn between opposing views as to what level of regulation should be enforced. High impact news stories such as violent crime and international terrorism awaken the insecurities of citizens that desire peace of mind.

The inner struggle is a balancing act of the desire for freedom versus the surrendering more to governmental control that can only add to the additional undesirable intrusion into their lives.

Historical Synopsis of Passed Gun Legislation
In 1938, the Federal Firearms Act was established controlling interstate commerce of all types of firearms through various methods of requirements. The Gun Control Act was the first gun legislation that was passed since the Federal Arms Act. The Gun Control Act is an important law. Typically, many gun control bills fail to pass through both Houses. This bill was intended by the government to ban shipping rifles to individuals; while prohibiting individuals from buying guns except in their own states. The bill allowed few exceptions. Some of the major provisions of the Gun Control Act prohibited interstate shipment of rifles, handguns, and ammunition to individuals who did not live in the same state as the dealer. Also, the law prohibited a person from making purchases from an out of state dealer.

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The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a constant source of resistance to stronger gun control proponents and a major outside influence to many pending gun bills. The NRA is able to persuade against stricter gun control laws by applying constant pressure to legislators. They are impervious to the public sway of opinion. The NRA has grown from 900,000 members in 1968 to over 4.2 million members today. They keep members well informed about gun legislation and encourage each of them to write letters and vote. Other influences besides the NRA do not impact Congress as heavily. These are smaller interest groups such as the National Shooting Sports Foundation Inc. (NSSF), The Sporting Arms, and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute.

These special interest groups also oppose stronger firearm legislation. Their members are not as numerous as those of the NRA, and therefore, their influences are not as great as that of the NRA.

In 1968, the assassinations of the Reverend Martin Luther King on April 5th and Robert F. Kennedy on June 5th largely influenced the passage of the Gun Control Act. Kennedy's death brought gun legislation into public knowledge for the first time in thirty years, resulting in letters that demanded stronger gun control legislation. After Kennedy's death, President Johnson repeatedly asked the public and Congress to ban out of state sales of rifles. President Johnson's statements encouraged the people and Congress to make a change for supporting stronger gun legislation.

On July 24, the House passed the bill 305-118 making it an amendment. The breakdown between political parties was Republican 147-39 and Democrats 158-79. On September 18th, the Senate passed the bill 70-19 with a breakdown of Republicans 31-4 and Democrats 39-13. The House and the Senate held conferences discussing differences on October 9th. The Senate voice voted on October 9 and the bill was adopted by a slim margin of 160-129; still, many members were still dissatisfied with the conference's report. The breakdown was Republican 63-63 and the Democrats 97-67. The President signed the bill on October 22.

Another piece of gun legislation was passed in 1993. The Brady Bill provided a five-day waiting period on handguns. This waiting period would allow government officials to do background checks on individuals who wanted to purchase a handgun. Officials hoped this policy would prevent unqualified persons from obtaining a firearm. The five-day waiting period would also act as a 'cooling off' period for purchasers. On November 10th 1993, the House approved the bill by a vote of 238-189. The breakdown between political parties was Republicans 54-119 and Democrats 184-69. Democrats overwhelmingly passed this bill. Democratic President Bill Clinton believed this bill would promote anti-crime initiatives.

The Senate passed the Brady Bill November 20th with a vote of 63-36. The break down between Republicans was 16-28 and Democrats 47-8. Republicans voted on twice cloture but it failed both times. In particular, Senate Minority leader Bob Dole, a Republican from Kansas, fought against the bill, but could never filibuster. The bill agreed to give $200 million a year to help States computerize their records. This would allow background records to be updated. On November 23rd, the House adopted the report from the conference committee 328-187 with Republicans voting 56-116 and Democrats 182-70. The next day the Senate adopted the conference report by voice only. After seven years, the Brady Bill was finally established and on
November 30th, President Clinton signed the bill into law. The bill was named after James Brady, the press secretary to Ronald Reagan, who was shot in an attempt to assassinate the President. Brady was left permanently disabled. Since then, he and his wife have been strong advocates of gun legislation. The personal experience of the White House press secretary helped educate and to show the public that anyone could be affected by lenient gun control legislation.

Historical Synopsis of Failed Gun Legislation
Although two pieces of important legislation have been passed, many bills never get far before they are killed. Here are two examples of legislation that have failed.

The 1966 gun control legislation was intended to extend control of sales of rifles, shotguns, and pistols. This proposed law was introduced in 1965 and reported to the Senate in 1966. The Senate and the House did not take action. Remarkably, the Senate did not take any floor action. The people did not pressure Congress to pass gun control legislation, probably because they may not have seen the legislation as important. The difference between this failed piece of legislation and the piece that passed was the pressure of people demanding immediate action.

The people failed to draw the connection between the violent actions and the need to control the access to guns. Johnson spoke adamantly to the public about stricter laws but it was not sufficient to pass the legislation until the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy.

Johnson then tried to influence the public to become more active. The weapon used to kill President Kennedy was a mail order rifle, which motivated the President to initiate legislation to restrict mail order weapons.

Another failed piece of gun legislation occurred in 1972. It was intended to outlaw the sale of "Saturday Night Specials." A "Saturday Night Special" is a cheaply manufactured handgun that is domestically produced.

The bill was intended to fix a loophole within the Gun Legislation of 1968 in which it prevented the shipping of firearms to out-of-state purchasers, but did not prevent buying of their parts. It passed in the Senate, but was never reported to the House and died in committee. This was an important piece of legislation. Domestically produced gun sales soared after the legislation act of 1968. The attempted assassination of Governor George C. Wallace of Alabama helped to push the movement further into legislation. On June 27th, the committee reported the bill 12-2. Then on July 31st the Senate judiciary committee reported an amended bill that had been introduced. On August 9th, the Senate passed the bill on a roll call vote 68-25. While Governor Wallace was not killed, he was left permanently paralyzed. The attempted assassination was captured on national TV and dramatically showed Mrs. Wallace covering her husband's fallen body. This likely touched American's hearts enough to do something about the problem.

However, past traumatic experiences cannot be continually used to pass future legislation.

A subcommittee ruled that these 'Saturday Night Special' guns were not professional guns that buyers would use for sporting; instead they decided that they were cheaply made and only bought by individuals for harmful intent. Many citizens protesting this bill were hunters interested in their sport. They saw this as the government whittling away of their constitutional right to own guns. Many extreme gun control advocates want private citizens not to be able to own any type of gun. They advocate that only people that should be allowed to own a gun are police officers and security guards. Their contention is that guns should be restricted to those whose job is to protect citizens. A rifle killed President John F. Kennedy and a "Saturday Night Special" killed Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Many people blame guns for the proliferation of criminal activity. They contend that the only way to prevent harm to society is to rid it of all weapons. They state that guns are made only with the intent to kill or fatally wound. Advocates for strong gun control ignore the rights of people who are responsible and are in control of their weapons. They want to restrict the rights of many to limit the behavior of a few criminals. The legislature continually tries to produce bills that will satisfy the needs of all citizens, but they rarely are able to create one that will pass.

Interest groups have such strong presence that they cause many bills to fail. Although there will always be black market sale of guns, we need to be careful to not punish law abiding citizens by making it difficult for them to buy a weapon.

Analysis of Gun Legislation
In both pieces of passed legislation, public pressure had significant influence, in the passage of the bills into law. Extreme circumstances in both cases affected the public's perception of gun control. We were alarmed with the state of affairs; we wanted results and reassurance that laws would prevent this from happening again. A major opposition to both bills was the National Rifle Association. The NRA has fought to kill gun control legislation. However, public pressure was enough to pass both pieces of legislation, despite the NRA's persistence. The passage of the Brady Bill was a crucial accomplishment for advocates of stronger gun control legislation.

Most individuals attitudes on gun control lie somewhere in between the extremes and are not extreme advocates for stricter laws or diluting the laws we already have on the books. These individuals may never have been affected by guns in their lives and would not be the type of individuals to write their local representative asking for stricter laws. Also, they would be less likely to own a gun or follow up with current proposed gun legislation. Citizens can help decide policy by becoming active and writing their Congressmen with concerns of gun legislation. Unfortunately, it is the people with extreme views that often are the voices heard repetitively by our representatives.

In David R. Mayhew's article, "The Electoral Connection and the Congress", he discusses how members of Congress are single-minded in their concern for re-election to their next term. He believes that most of what legislators do is geared toward the goal of re-election. However, this goal is not always a bad thing. Re-election forces members of Congress to listen to their constituents. This results in collecting the opinions of their constituents and directing their votes to satisfy the majority of their electorate. In the cases where gun legislation was passed, the Representative in the House was more likely to have listened to their districts. In the case of the Gun legislation of 1968, the House passed the bill making it an amendment 305-118. In the case of the Brady Bill, the House approved the bill by a vote of 238-189. The public wanted stronger gun control legislation. If Congress had chosen to ignore what the people wanted after the shocking violence committed to highly visible citizens, it is unlikely that many of the Congress people would have been re-elected to represent the views of their district.

In Richard F. Fenno, Jr.'s article, "U.S. House in Their Constituencies: An Exploration," he states that members in Congress try to achieve three goals while in office. Like in Mayhew's article, Fenno recognizes the main goal is being re-elected. The second goal is to pass legislation. The third is to have a good public policy. Congressmen are unable to achieve goals two and three without achieving their first goal of being elected. These goals provide a check for the people to view the actions of Congressmen. If they do not see them influencing chamber and making public positions that the majority of the people want, then the members will not be re-elected. This is a strong motivation for members. Thus, Congress cannot achieve their goals unless they fulfill the goals of the people first. This is a motivation for members to set standards for their constituents to judge them.

The Senate also tried to use their right to filibuster a bill. Cloture is a process to end a filibuster. Sixty votes are needed to stop a filibuster. This was an attempt used that senators attempted twice but failed both times in the Gun Legislation of 1968.

In Theriault's article, "Patronage, the Pendleton Act, and the Power of the People," the power of the people is discussed. The public puts pressure on the government and has the power to do something about government actions. The people have the power to decide and to make a difference in policy. This example is seen in both pieces of passed gun legislation that has been discussed in this essay paper.

Black's median theorem parties came to middle to fight for center voter who ever appeals to middle person wins the policy. (I have no idea what this is all about???) This is an important theory because it helps people understand why legislation is successful. Many times the NRA is fighting with a member of the Sierra Club, but the people that matter are those not in the picture; they are the ones in the middle.

Implication Future Gun Legislation
Gun control is often a deep emotional feeling that divides the country into many factions. Stricter laws may not apply in all states, and can differ even in the country or local level of government. Some states have few restrictions while others require owners of a firearm to be fingerprinted and possibly even require identification cards. The laws in each of these states can affect people's position on such a matter. If citizens had stricter laws, they might not feel the need to pressure the government for more gun control regulation. With laws differing so drastically, citizens may not understand other states laws differing from their own.

Passing a standard national law that everyone could agree on would be impossible. The passage of the gun control act of 1968 was triggered by the public's abhorrence to the assassinations and the resulting pressure on the government to do something. Congress was able to push through this agenda and produce a bill, despite many dissatisfied representatives in the House.

The circumstances of outside influences helped to pass this bill into law. The President exerted moral suasion on Americans through multiple public addresses regarding stronger gun control. After the death of King and Kennedy, President Johnson sidestepped Congress to influence citizens. His public encouragement forced Congress to respond. The majority of Americans wanted these bills to be passed, and although many Senators were not satisfied with the legislation, they knew it would be detrimental to their re-election if they had voted against it.

Many bills get passed after a conference committee amends the differences between the two chambers. After both chambers have reviewed the bill and made changes to it, a conference committee is in charge of reconciling those difference and coming up with a compromise. The compromise is taken back to both chambers for approval. Without this process, Gun Legislation of 1968 would have failed because of differences between the House's and the Senate's proposals.

Conclusion of Gun Legislation
The NRA has been and will continue to remain a major opposition for stronger gun legislation. This is a logical assumption based on the number of members and the growth in the recent years. This opposition may not be all bad. The resistance ensures that not all bills will be passed, but with the public's knowledge and concern some of the more important pieces of legislation will get passed.

It is important to note as to how political parties traditionally vote. The Republicans tend to favor less government and more individual freedom of choice and Democrats tend to believe that the citizens need to be protected from themselves. Thus, Republicans will tend to vote against gun legislation.

There are many issues to discuss for the advocates and opposition of gun control legislation. Many advocates for stronger gun control laws tend to link crimes to the usage of firearms. Often many of the legislators for stronger laws argue that guns are a major part in today's crime and lower crime rates could be achieved if there were stricter laws banning gun purchases. Many challengers of stronger gun control legislation blame the people who use the weapon and not the weapon itself. They believe guns are a form of protection and should not be taken away from Americans who want to protect themselves and their families. Typically, gun owners view the second amendment as a right to own guns. The second amendment to the Constitution 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". This amendment is interpreted by gun advocators as the right of American citizens to own guns. However, advocates of stronger gun control legislation believe that this statement only applies to the military and not all people are capable of the responsibilities of owning a gun.

Different motivations as to why people responded differently to each piece of legislation vary. Emotions based on fear may have been the driving factor in pressuring government to do something in order to protect its citizens. Many citizens may feel that if they allow the government to regulate one aspect of gun legislation they will try to control all of it.

The public does not want to open the floodgates to allow stricter gun control legislation. A few individuals' misuse guns, but the majority of the population properly use their guns for sport or for protection. My amendment made so that will separate individuals who misuse firearms and law-abiding citizens. By separating and distinguishing between these different types of people, such as criminals and the innocent, the public might accept the government's proposals for stricter laws concerning gun control if the people felt that their concerns were being treated fairly.

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