Legal Affairs: News, Notes and Opinions from the CalSouthern School of Law

Jan 18, 2013 by Ellen Sampong, JD

“Why can't they get rid of all the guns?” groaned two women behind me in a grocery store check-out line. In the wake of the tragic mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed seven adults and 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there is a call to eradicate gun ownership in the U.S. to save lives, and to stop senseless killings—especially of innocent victims. However, there are legal and personal landmines that must be navigated to answer the above question.

The U.S. Constitution grants the right to bear arms and although the majority of people in America want stricter gun laws (February 2008, USA Today/Gallup poll), they do not want to lose the right to own or purchase guns (June 2008 poll by CNN).  Not surprisingly, gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Gun Owners of America—quite legally—pour money into legislation that reinforces the right to own guns. This is reflected in the fact that no major gun legislation has been passed since the assault weapons ban expired in September 2004.  And in states such as California that have more restrictive gun laws, citizens who wish to own guns often purchase them in neighboring states with more lax laws, then bring them back to their state of residence.

It is apparent that Americans take their legal right to gun ownership seriously, although—as noted above—these sentiments may be changing.

Another argument for owning guns, including assault rifles, is personal.  Some say that gun ownership is needed for protection and that they do not want someone to dictate which type of gun will best suit their circumstances. Others focus on activities like hunting and target shooting. To these “sportsmen,” assault rifles and other guns are just as necessary a toy as, say, a motorcycle to a motor sports enthusiast or a sports car to an auto racing enthusiast.  It is often said that, in some parts of the country, hunters are needed to control the proliferation of certain species of animals.

So, while getting rid of all guns is near impossible, controlling who gets to own one is more feasible—and increasingly likely.  Lawmakers have shifted positions and are leaning toward controlling assault rifles. However, since 2004 they have not been able to pass legislation that curbs the ability to buy guns and the NRA has never acknowledged  that guns are the problem.  Thus, it remains to be seen.  We will certainly hear more in the months to come.

Until then, the discussion continues.

At CalSouthern, our hearts and prayers are with all the families who reside in Newtown, CT, in particular, those who were directly affected by the shooting, including first responders.



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