Gun Rights Debate

History and Debate of Gun Rights

The right to keep and bear arms fundamentally is the assertion that people, either individually or collectively as a militia, have a personal right to possess weapons. Often, but not always, the arms at the forefront of the conversation are firearms, though other kinds of weapons are involved as well. Debates about the right to keep and bear arms also usually involve issues such as the right of individuals to defend themselves, their families and their property as well as issues such as the right to protect oneself even against one's own government.

United States vs. United Kingdom

Although much of the history of the laws in the United States have their basis in English common law, the United States and the United Kingdom have very different approaches to the issue of the right to keep and bear arms. The right to keep and bear arms is recognized in the United States Bill of Rights and has been enacted as the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. In contrast, in the United Kingdom, neither English law nor Scottish law discusses the right to bear and keep arms. Although they may carry pepper spray or a side baton, even police officers in Great Britain do not routinely carry firearms. Further, the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 prohibited individuals from carrying offensive weapons, such as firearms and knives, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. Moreover, the Firearms (Amendment) (No.2) Act 1997 effectively banned in Great Britain the private possession of all modern pistols, even for competitive sporting purposes.

Unlike the United Kingdom, which has taken a relatively restrictive approach to the possession of arms, the United States has taken a more lenient approach. In the United States, three models have evolved regarding the interpretation of the meaning of the right to bear and keep arms as delineated in the Second Amendment. Proponents of the first model, sometimes referred to as the collective model, focus on the reference to a militia in the preamble to the Second Amendment and argue that the intent of the Second Amendment is to authorize states to have a militia. Proponents of the second model, sometimes referred to as the modified collective model, contend that the right to bear and keep arms is a right that is limited to individuals who are actively a part of a militia in accordance with the regulations of the militia. The third model, which is sometimes referred to as the individual rights model, holds that the intent of the Second Amendment is to ensure that individuals have the right to own and possess firearms.

The third model has given rise to much debate about whether the right of an individual to own and possess firearms is unlimited or subject to the imposition of reasonable limitations. Even among those who believe the right to bear and keep arms is subject to limitation, debate rages on about who may impose the limitations. Should the regulation of firearms be exercised by the federal government? Or should firearms regulation be controlled by the individual states? Currently, in the United States, each of the 50 states regulates firearms within their own jurisdictions and in accordance with their own regulations. Debate about the right to keep and bear arms continues between those who desire stricter control of firearms and those who believe any control is unconstitutional.

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