The Right To Keep And Bear Arms

Thursday, 19 August, 1996

"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" (Bill of
Rights, Article II).

This seemingly simple phrase is probably the source of more debate and argument
than any other single sentence in American history. The argument is not black or
white, pro or con. Rather, it encompasses many shades of gray. At the one end of
the spectrum you have the National Rifle Association (NRA) which currently views
any type of gun control as an infraction against the Second Amendment of the
Constitution ("What is the NRA" 1). At the other end of the spectrum you have
groups like the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) and Handgun Control, Inc.
seek to make most firearms accessible only to law enforcement and the military
("CSGV" 1). In the middle there are organizations such as the American Firearms
Association, who seek compromise regarding our rights (Lissabet, "Return" 2).
Some organizations that one would expect to participate in this debate are
noticeably quiet. One such group is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
In "The ACLU on Gun Control", the national ACLU policy is neutrality (1).

All factions in this debate have some merit, some more than others. All use a
mixture of facts, figures, and emotions to express their views. I will be
presenting some of their history, their views, and how they make their cases.

The NRA is perhaps the most well known of the participants. They were formed
after the Civil War, in 1871, as an organization dedicated to the rifle
marksmanship of the state Militias. This was due to Union Army's lack of
marksmanship. Following World War II, many returning veterans joined the ranks
of the NRA. They endured their share of military life and over time the NRA's
mission was changed to that of a sportsman's organization. This did not last
long.

Following the assassination of President Kennedy the Gun Control Act of 1968 was
passed. The act banned the mail-order sale of guns and ammunition. This act was
even supported by the NRA's leaders. Within the NRA however, there was a growing
faction that opposed gun control in any form. This faction was set up as the
subordinate committee, Institute for Legislative Action (ILA). This faction
gained support and power and in 1977 gained control of the NRA. They have held
that power ever since.

Today's NRA works to foster support for the shooting sports, to promote firearms
safety, responsibility, and freedom, and to protect Second Amendment rights from
infringement ("What is the NRA" 1). They take a very hard line in their
protection of Second Amendment rights. They believe that the right to keep and
bear arms is an individual right and work to oppose any legislation that will
infringe that right.

The AFA was founded in 1993. It seeks to protect the constitutional right to
bear arms while supporting fair and reasonable gun controls. They seek to
preserve the sportsman's arms, rifles and shotguns, at the cost of the
recreational shooters arms, handguns (Lissabet, "Return" 3). This approach is
presented as a compromise to safeguard Second Amendment rights. They espouse to
support the Second Amendment, they also support the implementation of stricter
gun controls (Lissabet, "Anti-Federalism" 4). The AFA counts among its
membership many ex-NRA members. Some of these include the board members who were
forced out of the NRA in 1977.

The CSGV was founded in 1974. Its mission was to fight what they saw as a
growing problem of gun violence in the US. Their main goal is:
_the orderly elimination of the private sale of handguns and assault weapons in
the United States. CSGV seeks to ban handguns and assault weapons from
importation, manufacture, sale, or transfer by the general American public, with
reasonable exceptions made for police, military, security personnel, gun clubs
where guns are secured on club premises, gun dealers trading in antique and
collectable firearms kept and sold in inoperable condition. ("CSGV" 1). They
also seek to make the acquisition of the firearms that are still legal very
difficult. They seek to do this through limiting dealer licenses, restrictive
gun owner fees and regulations. Many other gun control measures are supported
and supported by the CSGV. They feel that the Second Amendment is a collective
right, to be held by the government and law enforcement agencies.

These three factions all manipulate the figures to show support for their views,
they use fear to gain the support of the people. In their own way they all
present valid arguments, yet none are completely right in their stand. The NRA
would be better served by supporting some measures of