The Politics of Gun Control

By Roberst J. Spitzer | Go to book overview

I come from a State where half the folks have hunting and fishing licenses. I can still remember the first day when I was a little boy out in the country putting a can on top of a fencepost and shooting a .22 at it. I can still remember the first time I pulled a trigger on a .410 shotgun because I was too little to hold a .12 gauge.... This is part of the culture of a big part of America.... I live in a place where we still close schools and plants on the first day of deer season, nobody is going to show up anyway.... We have taken this important part of the life of millions of Americans and turned it into an instrument of maintaining madness. It is crazy.

-- President Bill Clinton, comments at 30 November 1993 signing ceremony for the "Brady bill"


1. Policy Definition and Gun Control

THE controversy over gun control revolves around two related questions of government authority: does the government have the right to impose regulations; and, assuming the existence of such a right, should the government regulate guns? It is perfectly obvious that numerous gun control regulations already exist, from the national to the local level. Indeed, gun control opponents are quick to point out that thousands of gun laws exist throughout the country, a fact usually quoted to underscore their belief that such regulation is futile. A pamphlet produced by the National Rifle Association (NRA) mentions "an estimated 20,000 local, state, and federal firearms laws," the vast majority of which are local codes. 1 Gun control opponents also argue that further gun restrictions could impinge on constitutional rights and the innate rights of the citizenry in a free nation. Before proceeding with these key questions, we must begin with the role and purpose of government regulation.


Regulation, Public Order, and Public Policy

The fundamental purpose of government--indeed, its first purpose--is to establish and maintain order. As many political thinkers have noted, human existence before the establishment of governments was chaotic and anarchic. Writing in the seventeenth century, the British political theorist Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan noted that life in such a "state

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