Recently gun rights advocates got a huge power boost from the highest court in the United States. On Junes 28, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled explicitly that the Second Amendment, which guarantees “the right to bear arms,” applies to the states.
While this does make some legal issues clearer, this ruling has also opened a huge can of worms. The justices specifically avoiding declaring which kinds of state gun control laws would now be considered unconstitutional. This means that without any clear cut guidance, the majority of these laws will be challenged individually.
This got me thinking about the origins of gun control laws, and how other countries have dealt with the issue. The basic premise of our right to bear arms was meant as a check on the power of the new sovereign state. The U.S. founding fathers believed they’d been oppressed and abused by their former sovereign state, and as such feared that even with all the safeguards they’d designed, their new state could eventually oppress their descendants. The second amendment was about freedom of the individual to resist the Tyranny of the Government.
And the rest of the world? Each nation has a different history which has shaped their modern perspective on gun control. A few highlights are below:
Our neighbors to the south have a large problem with gun violence, but it is unlikely that their problems stem from their own official government policy.
Article 10 of the Mexican Constitution of 1857 granted Mexican citizens the right to arm themselves for security and legitimate defense. However by 1917 Mexico had a new constitution and a new Article 10, in which the types of guns regular citizens are allowed to own was more narrowly restricted. The Article states that if the weapon is designated for exclusive use by any branch of the military, the regular citizen is banned from using that weapon. It also stipulates that federal law can dictate conditions, requirements and places in which gun possession is allowed.
Legal, licensed, gun ownership is tightly regulated in Mexico. A Mexican citizen can purchase a gun for self-defense or hunting only after their petition to the Defense Ministry has been approved and their background checks have cleared. The type of legal weaponry available for purchase is limited to low caliber weaponry and the only legal seller is the Defense Ministry itself.
Mexico’s problems with gun violence more likely stem from the flow of weapons obtained legally and illegally in the Unites States. Once obtained, these firearms are then smuggled south across the border.
In 1911 the last of China’s long line of monarchist dynasties collapsed, leaving the large nation under the control of a patchwork of dueling warlords. Out of this chaotic and violent period, two parties emerged the Kuomintang Party and the Communist Party of China (CPC). Neither was powerful enough to take over the entire country on their own and both appealed to foreign powers for help with their domestic issues. An extensive Civil War followed, it lasted form 1927 until around 1950 when the CPC took over mainland China and formed the People’s Republic of China as a Communist State.
Today’s China fits in with the traditional stereotype of Communist states in that they allow very little in the way of personal or individual freedom. Speech, media, education, jobs, and arms are all strictly controlled. The actual political situation is much more complicated than such a superficial description, but such discussions aren’t meant for a blog like this.
In short, the right to bear arms is nonexistent in China. If you are not a member of the police, the army or the paramilitary you are not allowed to own or sell a gun. If you are convicted of violating this law you face a minimum 3 year prison sentence and at maximum the death penalty.
Switzerland is a landlocked European nation that has quite literally been at the center of a large number of European wars. Historically, as a result the Swiss army had to be well trained and ready for rapid deployment in response to foreign aggression at all times. The Swiss enabled this rapid deployment by training their army through their militias. Though the political climate of Europe has calmed, Switzerland’s militia tradition continues.
All young Swiss males are subject to Switzerland’s universal conscription law which means they are automatically eligible for conscription into the armed forces when they are between 20-34 years old. In addition, after they have completed their period of active duty, they will most likely be placed back in their militias until age, disability or some other infirmity renders them unable to serve and thus ends their legal obligation. Since most Swiss men are part of the militia, they are required to keep their service weapons in their homes.
However, Swiss citizens who are not part of the military and are not licensed to carry the weapons are not allowed to carry them. In addition, owners are considered legally responsible should a third party access and use their weapons.
Obviously our country has a deep history with guns. There are many responsible gun owners out there but there are also many stories of gun violence: school shootings, gang violence, drug violence, etc. Considering the words of the Constitution, the history of American gun rights, and the power behind gun right advocates like the NRA (National Rifle Association), it is unlikely we will see an end to the right of individual gun ownership in America.
However, perhaps using a uniformed licensing and registration procedure could help curb the volume of gun related deaths in America. If all owners were required to go through a licensing program and register their weapons, (just as they are required to for the use of automobiles) it could encourage them to be more responsible and careful when using and securing their weapons.