Guns - History, Culture and Politics in the USA

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Gun ownership is a major political issue in the United States of America. Gun Control advocates push for stricter laws limiting citizens' access to firearms. Gun Rights advocates resist these measures, citing the citizens' right to 'keep and bear arms'. The issue is terribly contentious and complicated, and this entry will only attempt to outline the main points on both sides. We will certainly not attempt to take sides or to show why any point of view is 'correct' or 'incorrect'.

Throughout the entry, we will use the terms 'gun control' and 'gun rights' to refer to the two sides of the debate. Gun control advocates might refer to gun rights advocates as 'gun nuts', and gun rights advocates sometimes refer to gun control advocates as 'gun grabbers', but we will defer to each group's right to choose its own name.

A Little Bit of History

North America was taken from the native inhabitants and whittled from a wilderness into a post-post-industrial behemoth, largely by means of guns. From frontiersmen such as Davey Crockett to wild-west gunslingers like Wyatt Earp, citizens experienced in the use of firearms figure largely in American history and myth.

Perhaps most importantly, Americans remember the 'Minutemen' at Lexington and Concord, and the famous 'Shot heard 'round the world'. America's independence was won from the British in the 1770s, largely with privately owned guns. There wasn't really a US Army at the time of the Revolutionary War, because there wasn't a US. What existed were state militias, comprised of volunteers from each state, and they were commanded as one army by General Washington1.

The same General Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1789, in which the US Constitution, the document incorporating 13 independent states into one nation, was written. A 'Bill of Rights' was added to the Constitution directly after the convention, and this document outlined the basic rights of citizens of the US: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Reiligion, Freedom of the Press, Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure,.... freedom to own guns.

The Second Amendment

Amendment II: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The language of this amendment isn't the clearest one could hope for. 'A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,' is sort of a dangling participle. It seems that pepole are supposed to bear arms so that they can serve in a well-regulated milita, but that connection isn't fleshed out. How are these arm-bearing people to be well regulated? If the country ends up with a peace-time standing army (as it currently has), and the State Militias are made obsolete (as many will say they currently are), does that then change the status of the people's right to arm themselves?

Gun Laws

[This section should be about what's happened since the Second Amendment. Important Supreme Court decisions would be relevant, as well as major national gun control bills, whether passed or, ahem... shot down.]

Guns and Crime

[This section has to be here, as much of the public debate focuses of the role of guns in crime commission and prevention. The argument can be presented on both sides, and then there should be a short bit on why this issue doesn't get to the heart of the matter.]

The Use of Guns to Commit Crimes

The Use of Guns to Prevent Crimes

A Red Herring?

Beyond Gun Crime - Security and Freedom

[This section is about how gun laws are ultimately an emotional issue, that push the buttons relating to how people view American culture. The issues raised in this section trump the drier, statistical issues in the above section, for people on both sides.]

Gun Control at an Emotional Level

[Gun control advocates crave the security of a well-ordered society in which a strong, pervasive government provides protection against crimes. They trust the government to maintain an orderly society more than they trust society to order itself when left to its own devices. They desire the freedom from having to worry about defending themselves against their fellow citizens.]

Gun Rights at an Emotional Level

[Gun rights advocates also value security and freedom. Not trusting the government to provide them and their loved ones with security, they feel the best course is to take that job into their own hands. Guns also make them feel secure against the government, which they fundamentally mistrust. The freedoms loved by gun rights advocates are those of self-determination and of holding the ultimate power from with the government derives its authority. Guns, although not merely symbolic, are a symbol of that power.]

Possible Resolution?

[Yeah, right.]

Some quotes I'll maybe use:

During the debate over ratification of the Constitution, federalist Noah Webster assured America: 'Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed, as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword, because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States'
The first words of America's national existence, the Declaration of Independence, assert a natural right to overthrow a tyrant by force.
[To accept Kleck's viewpoint is to] embrace a society based on an internal as well as an external balance of terror. The social order is seen to rest adequately on masses of potential victims using the threat of gun violence against masses of potential armed criminals.... [The] spectacle is one that ought to disgust rather than cheer the civilized observer.
- H Laurence Ross
Though I have no doubt exceptions can be brought forward, I think the following rule would be generally true: that in ages when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people will have a chance...
- George Orwell
Gun control, whatever its symbolic benefits, distracts the public and the legislature from the more difficult tasks of taking better care of the mentally ill, of confronting the culture of poverty, and of imprisoning violent criminals for lengthy terms.

Above quotes from here

1There were also mercenaries and Frenchmen. They're not mentioned as often.

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