Gun Control on Trial: Inside the Supreme Court Battle over the Second Amendment

By Brian Doherty | Go to book overview

3. The Politics of Gun Control

It was a long, unplanned journey from the days when the state of Virginia insisted by law that its male citizens carry arms to courts and church to the day that D.C. could arrest an armed security guard for having one in his home.

Severe state and local gun restrictions began popping up in the 20th century. In 1902, for example, South Carolina banned all pistol sales to civilians. In 1911, New York City passed the Sullivan Act in a wave of anti-immigrant fervor, giving police officials a weapon to ensure the “wrong element”—like Southern and Eastern Europeans—couldn't walk around armed. The law prohibited carrying concealed weapons without a permit, a permit issued at the discretion of city officials. Nowadays, in New York officials' eyes, nearly everyone who isn't a celebrity, politician, or media magnate is deemed unworthy to carry such means of self-defense.

Federal gun regulation began in earnest with the 1934 National Firearms Act. It applied only to certain classes of firearms, mostly shotguns with less than an 18-inch barrel, rifles with less than a 16inch barrel, and machine guns. The act established licensing of dealers and registration of weapons for those classes. A large tax ($200, in 1934 dollars) on every affected weapon when manufactured or sold made the weapons at issue so prohibitively expensive it killed a lively civilian market in them. This was essentially gun control disguised as a revenue act; it was the law that triggered the Miller case (see chapter 1).

A follow-up Federal Firearms Act in 1937 extended some mild, rarely enforced, restrictions on people selling all sorts of firearms in interstate commerce (this was back when the “interstate” distinction was still occasionally meaningful to Congress). The NRA was instrumental in drafting the law, which ended up, to gun controllers' chagrin, mostly toothless.

The next two decades were quiet on the gun-control front. The 1960s gave many Americans reason to fear the gun, given the major

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Gun Control on Trial: Inside the Supreme Court Battle over the Second Amendment
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction: Heller Makes History xiii
  • 1. the Roots of the Second Amendment 1
  • 2. the Genesis of Heller 23
  • 3. the Politics of Gun Control 43
  • 4. Gun Stories, Gun Culture, and Gun Prejudice 71
  • 5. Guns by Numbers and Heller's Day in Court 85
  • 6. the Heller Aftermath 109
  • Selected Bibliography 117
  • Table of Cases 119
  • Index 121
  • About the Author 127
  • Cato Institute 128
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