The discussion surrounding gun control in the United States is a core issue for some voters heading to the ballot box this November. At the center of this debate are various political and judicial interpretations regarding the Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms” and whether legislation designed to curb mass shootings supersedes those constitutional guarantees.
Gun control generally refers to legislation seeking to provide greater restrictions on firearms, from the federal or state government, through background checks, firearm or bump stock bans, red flag laws, ammo limits, and waiting periods to purchase a firearm. In the upcoming midterm election, Republican candidates and incumbents are generally opponents of gun control measures, while Democrats typically support them.
Opponents of gun control laws believe the Second Amendment was designed to protect an individual’s right to self-defense and, therefore, lawful gun ownership should not be limited. At the same time, proponents of gun control believe that the Second Amendment was written for organized militias and that in order to reduce gun violence, new limits must be put in place regarding the buying and selling of firearms.
Currently, no candidates from either political party in the battleground elections openly advocate for a full repeal of the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights. However, some of the strongest supporters of strict gun control legislation are Democrats in the tightly contested elections that determine which party achieves a majority in the House or Senate as well as gubernatorial seats.
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Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is one of the most significant advocates of gun control in a battleground election against Republican Incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp. Abrams, a former delegate Georgia House of Representatives, is endorsed by Gabby Giffords, a former congresswoman from Arizona who was a victim of gun violence in January 2011 while serving in office. On her campaign website, Abrams advocates for universal background checks, prohibiting private sellers at gun shows from selling firearms without a federal background check, and requiring gun owners to apply for a license to carry concealed weapons in public.
Democratic Ohio Representative and senate candidate Tim Ryan is another major advocate of gun control running against Republican candidate JD Vance. In July 2022, The Human Rights Campaign endorsed Ryan in the election, citing “his two bills to improve and expand background checks for gun purchases.”
Following the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 21 people, 19 of which were children, at Robb Elementary School shooting in May 2022, Democratic Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke renewed calls to ban “assault weapons.” A day after the shooting, O’Rourke confronted his opponent, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, at a news conference, stating: “This is on you… Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state or they will continue to be killed just like they were killed in Uvalde yesterday,”
The debate surrounding gun control in the U.S. is happening at the federal and state level. Numerous states have gun control legislation that limits open carry, while other states, typically led by Republicans, have fewer gun control measures. However, at the national level, Democrats, alongside some Republicans, have passed significant gun control measures recently.
After the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, President Joe Biden signed into law the first major gun safety legislation passed by Congress in nearly three decades. The legislation provides incentives to states that choose to pass red flag laws, prevents individuals convicted of domestic abuse from owning a firearm, and expands background checks for individuals over 18 but under 21 trying to purchase a gun.
California is widely considered to have the strictest gun laws in the country, according to the Giffords Law Center. In the Golden State, you must be 21 years old to purchase a handgun, 18 to purchase a shotgun or rifle, and pass a background check, regardless of age or if it was purchased at a gun show. Moreover, California law makes it illegal for gun owners to have their firearms removed if they are facing domestic violence charges, or if an individual has a domestic abusive protective order filed against them.
Ammunition is also regulated in California after the passage of Proposition 63 by voters in 2016. California law requires individuals to acquire an ammunition vendor license in order to sell over 500 rounds of ammunition.
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Strict gun control measures for firearm owners can appear different depending on the state and the law. Typically, more restrictive states such as California may require gun owners to enact trigger locks or gun safes in their domicile where a firearm is present. Other states may require a license to carry a firearm in public or a background check to purchase a gun from a private seller.
Support for stricter gun laws has declined in recent years, according to the Pew Research Center. Approximately half of Americans, 53%, support strong gun laws, while 32% believe the laws are fine, and 14% believe laws should be less strict. In prior years, such as September 2019, roughly 60% of Americans reported they wanted stricter gun laws. The extensive poll and data released by the Pew Researcher Center came out in September 2021 before the Uvalde school shooting.
Only one amendment has ever been repealed in the history of the United States. The ratification of the Twenty-first on December 5, 1933, repealed the Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited the sale of alcohol. Any proposed amendment to the U.S. constitution must be passed by a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate. In addition, three fourths of the 50 states must then ratify the amendment.