As gun-rights advocates, we must seize and maintain the moral and intellectual high ground. We already understand the tactical and practical costs of the spectrum of gun-control proposals and the equipment that gun-controllers seek to regulate. But we must also understand the law. The good news is that the law favors us.
A surprising number of people on both sides of the gun-control debate are ignorant of where national gun-control policy presently stands. It is our duty to master and be able to convey some of the key concepts in relevant standing gun laws and court decisions.
That Dreaded Word
It starts with the Constitution. You know the Second Amendment well, but you may have noticed that our opponents are deliberately obtuse about its plain meaning and grammar, so you may need to teach them. Gun-controllers get hung up on that term “militia.” This is the term that they fear the most.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller informs us that the reference to a well-ordered militia in the prefatory clause of the sentence only gives us insight into the purpose of the Second Amendment. It does not suppress the operative language that the Second Amendment protects the people in our right to bear arms. Every time you hear an opponent jab the debate with militia language, you can drop the entire Heller decision on him or her and carry on with your day. But even if he or she was right — which isn’t the case — U.S. federal law defines militia in a very broad way:
10 U.S. Code § 246 – Militia: composition and classes
(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.
(b) The classes of the militia are —
(1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and
(2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.
It is important to capture and explain how the Supreme Court has interpreted the Second Amendment. This case law is the federal government’s official interpretation of the Constitution. The Heller decision made it clear that the right to bear arms is indeed an individual right centered on personal defense, not something only reserved for the National Guard. McDonald v. City of Chicago further clarified that the right to keep and bear arms is not subject to the whims of individual states. And that precludes states from restricting entire classes of firearms in common use. These two decisions form a powerful precedent against legislative encroachment on gun rights.
Two Acts to Know
Of the relevant federal statutes, the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act are the two important laws all gun-rights advocates should know.
The National Firearms Act of 1934 mandates a method of regulation by way of an application and tax to control machine guns, short-barreled long guns and silencers. The Gun Control Act of 1968 (amended in 1986) banned the importation or manufacture of machine guns. Those two laws controlled and banned “assault weapons.” The 10-year Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 (which expired in 2004) redefined “assault weapon” and prohibited many modern sporting firearms based on characteristics such as possessing a pistol grip, flash suppressor or bayonet lug.
To my knowledge, no American has ever been killed in a criminal homicide with a flash hider or a bayonet lug. Likewise, there is no evidence of a statistically significant impact in criminal homicides during the 10 years of the “assault weapons” ban. In short, the 1994 ban didn’t make sense, it didn’t do any good, and there is no reason to bring it back. It’s as simple as that.
It is also critical to understand what laws we do NOT have. Movies and television, sometimes referring to state laws in California and New York where many stories are set, have led many Americans to believe that you need a permit or a license to own a gun. This isn’t accurate. There is no federal requirement to register or to get a permit to own a gun. There is no ban on hollow-point bullets either. Suppressors (often called “silencers” both in federal paperwork and common parlance) and sawed-off shotguns are not prohibited, but they are heavily regulated under the National Firearms Act.
Master the Facts
Gun-policy debates span the spectrum from constructive to rote trolling. If you start with a common understanding of the facts and the rules, you have a better chance of leading the discussion toward a meaningful conclusion. Gun-control advocates are often willfully ignorant about guns and the status of gun policy. Our mastery of the facts and the law can provide a positive contrast with the anti-gun crowd and help to build our credibility. The law is on our side, and we can keep it that way with effective advocacy.
Doyle is a concerned citizen and gun-rights advocate. His opinions are his alone and do not reflect the official policy or position of his or any other agency. References and links to other gun advocacy sites do not imply endorsement of those organizations. He can be reached by mail at [email protected].