II. Gun Control: An Uphill Battle in the United States
Since the end of the 19th century, U.S. state and local governments have made various attempts to introduce legislation on gun control, but such efforts all ended up either long in words but short on action, or flip-flopped. No real progress was made on gun control.
The second amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides for the right of individuals to keep and bear arms. In recent years, as gun-related issues have become increasingly prominent, pro-gun and pro-control advocates have engaged in heated debates on the interpretation of the second amendment. Organizations that support gun rights claim that individual rights should not be arbitrarily modified and gun control is illegal. Organizations that support gun control argue that the second amendment establishes a collective right, rather than an individual right to possess guns, and the government has the right to control guns. Such debates have resulted in stalled efforts on gun control legislation, and Supreme Court rulings based on the second amendment are often not in favor of gun control.
In the United States, there is significant disparity in gun control from state to state, and relevant legislation efforts at the federal level are often slow, inconsistent and contradictory.?In 1927, an act passed by Congress banned mail shipment of firearms such as pistols and revolvers to individuals, but did not prohibit the delivery of such firearms through private delivery firms. Under this act, individuals are allowed to buy guns across state lines. In 1968, the Gun Control Act passed by Congress did not include registration and licensing requirements for all firearms and their carriers, nor did it ban the import of firearm components. In 1969, the lobbying power of the U.S. National Rifle Association (NRA) propelled Congress to waive requirement for registration of buyers' information by sellers of shotgun and rifle cartridges. In 1986, the Firearms Owners' Protection Act signed by President Ronald Reagan made it easier for unlicensed individuals to sell firearms. It also allowed firearms to be sold at gun shows, and banned the establishment of any comprehensive system of firearm registration.
In 2005, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which protects firearm manufacturers from civil liability for crimes committed with their products. Pro-gun groups have also used legislation and federal courts to resist gun control efforts. In June 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller. With this ruling, the District of Columbia lifted the ban on handguns and allowed individuals to keep guns at home. Justice Antonin Scalia, who presided over the case, noted that the second amendment protects an individual's right to keep and bear firearms, and that the District of Columbia's ban on handgun possession in the home violated that right. The Supreme Court's ruling and its opinion on this case have directly affected gun control legislation across the United States. In 2012, in the wake of a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school, Senators Joe Manchin and Patrick Toomey drafted a compromise bill to expand background checks on gun buyers. The bill fell short of the 60 votes?required to move forward and was thus defeated. In the ensuing decade, all congressional efforts to pass bills to enhance background checks on gun buyers ended up in failure.
In March 2021, the House passed the "Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021", which requires background checks on all gun sales. In May 2022,?two mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas sparked hundreds of anti-gun violence demonstrations, and calls for gun control re-surged. The Senate and the House adopted new gun control legislation, only after Democrats significantly weakened the control measures. At the same time, however, the Supreme Court issued a ruling striking down New York State's 1911?law which restricts carrying a concealed firearm in public. This directly undermined the ability of state and local governments to monitor firearms in New York, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, among others.
Due to the difficulty of Congress to act on gun control, the U.S. administration could only regulate certain types of firearms and firearm modifications through presidential executive orders. In June 2022, Congress passed a gun-related bill called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. According to a Pew poll, most people are not optimistic about the bill's effect in reducing gun violence in the United States. Seventy-eight percent think it will do little, of which 36 percent think it will do nothing at all.
The American public is deeply divided on gun control. Public opinion polls in recent years have shown that women, urban residents, non-native borns, liberal-leaning people and non-gun owners are more likely to support gun control, while men, rural residents, native-born Americans, political conservatives, hunters and gun owners oppose it. The gap between Americans' stance on gun control is still widening.