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The History of Gun Control In the United States

Posted by Jordan Vinroe on Jan 20, 2020

To understand guns today, you must first look at the history of gun control in the United States. There are a lot of widespread misconceptions and myths about guns, gun violence, and gun safety laws in America. The United States has the highest total and per capita gun number in the world. Guns came with the pilgrims and have never left. Our nation’s passion for guns could be attributed to our colonial history, revolutionary roots, and drive for frontier expansion. However, it was our Bill of Rights and the Second Amendment that gave us the right to keep and bear arms.

Our Founding Fathers

Our Founding Fathers Relied On Guns To Establish A Nation

Guns were a necessity and quite common in the American colonies. They were used to hunt food sources and for general protection. They later became weapons in events like the American Revolutionary War and Civil War. You may be surprised to know that one adult man from each household was expected to bring a gun with them to church or other public meetings. Some gun laws overseeing the colonies required that heads of households, even women, own guns. This was to protect themselves against attacks and prevent theft of firearms from unattended homes.

Although guns were common in colonial and revolutionary America, our history of gun control in the United States shows us that gun restrictions were common too.

Magnified words in Constitution spur myths about gun laws

Individual Versus A Collective Right

One unanswered myth about gun legislation first appears in our Bill of Rights. It is a mystery as to whether the words recorded in the Second Amendment were referring to an individual’s right to bear arms, or to the local, state, and federal legislative bodies’ right to bear arms. Some believe that it is the citizens that do not have an individual right to possess guns. Others believe that it is the citizen who does have the individual constitutional right to bear arms.

This discrepancy in our Constitution has had a large impact on the history of gun control in the United States and has been the cause of many debates. We will never know what was going through our forefathers’ minds. Although this mystery may never be solved, some historians suggest that the need to distinguish between individual versus collective rights would not have even been a debate. This is because the two were intertwined, and not looked at as separate, during this time.

Cowboy standing next to horse in front of old west building

The Wild West May Not Have Been That Wild

There are plenty of myths about guns during this country’s frontier period. From the 1700s to the 1800s, there were a series of restrictions and gun laws created to prevent certain people, including African Americans and criminals, from owning guns. During this history of gun control in the United States, even free persons of color were not allowed to own, use, or carry firearms without suffering some sort of punishment.

Towards the late 1800s, the classic Wild West was in full swing. Visions of cowboys riding into old towns on horses with  pistols blazing may come to mind. The movies paint the scene of lawless degenerates shooting up an old saloon while playing poker. But despite the Hollywood images of the Wild West, cities on the frontier often required visitors to check their guns with the sheriff before entering the town.

Today, Legislation Regulates Types Of Guns Americans Are Allowed To Have

Throughout the history of gun control in the United States, there have been a number of pieces of legislation passed that regulate the type of firearms civilians are allowed to own. There are a few big legislative acts that have helped shape the kind of gun today’s American is allowed to own.

The National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 - One of the first pieces of legislation passed, in 1934. This act was passed in response to the famous gangsters and criminals of the 1920s and ’30s. Prohibition was during this time and paved the way for elevated gang violence. Al Capone and his cronies ruled the streets during this time and their actions would forever change the history of gun control in the United States.

Contrary to the myths about guns during this time, they were not prohibited like alcohol. The National Firearm Act required all fully automatic and short barrel firearms to be registered. That way the government could keep track of who owned them, and if they got sold, who the new owner was.

This act also imposed a $200 tax which is still in effect today.

The Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968 - Passed to further regulate the sale and transfer of firearms, its primary focus is regulating interstate commerce in firearms. This act prohibited minors, drug addicts, mentally unbalanced people, and convicted felons from purchasing guns. It forever affected the history of gun control in the United States by banning shipments of firearms and ammunition to private individuals across state lines.

The Firearms Owners’ Protection Act of 1986 - This act completely banned civilians from owning assault rifles. In doing this, it cleared up some discrepancies in the GCA of 1968. In short, today, civilians are not allowed to own assault rifles, and they’ve been regulated for the better half of a century.

Building A Personal Firearm Is The Only Way To Stay Off-The-Books

The history of gun control in the United States is extensive. Laws are constantly evolving to meet the needs of regulation. It is unlikely that laws will ever recede. In fact, more stringent laws should be expected in the future, as weapons get more dynamic and criminals get smarter.

For the true gun enthusiast who still believes they should be able to own a gun that can’t be traced, there is always the  80% lower receiver. Not only is building your own gun a great way to really get to know your firearm, but there is no serial number, paperwork, or background check involved. Because these incomplete lower halves can not fire anything straight out of the box, they are perfectly legal to ship in most areas!