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Since the right to bear arms was enshrined in the United States Constitution over 200 years ago, federal gun laws have been an evolving concept. Initially meant to allow citizens to protect themselves against a tyrannical government, the Second Amendment, and what it allows, has become a source of near constant debate among gun owners, advocates, law enforcement, and the media. In the wake of seemingly increasing incidences of school-based gun violence over the last 20 years, beginning with the Columbine High School shooting (and particularly in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting), the conversation has been shifting more and more toward how to restrict gun rights and strengthen gun laws. Taking a look at our history, however, shows that this is not the first time a rash of crimes has started this conversation in the US.
A Brief History of Gun Laws
Gun violence has prompted legislation to restrict the use of guns in this country before. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration passed The National Firearms Act in 1934, which meant to tax the manufacture, sale, and transportation of certain firearms in an effort to curtail the gang violence of the era. Decades later, President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed to pass the Gun Control Act of 1968 following the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This bill banned the import of certain guns, raised the legal age to purchase a handgun to 21, banned certain people from purchasing or owning guns, and imposed more restrictions on the firearms industry as a whole. President Bill Clinton signed into law The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 which required background checks before guns could be purchased from a licensed dealer and established the National Instant Criminal Background Check System which is still maintained by the FBI.
Recent Developments in Gun Control
More recently, the focus has turned to violence in schools following a string of school shootings occurring over the last 20 years. Legislatures and schools across the country are debating everything from increasing the age limits for buying firearms to arming teachers. At the federal level, bump stocks were banned this year in response to the Las Vegas Shooting of 2017, which remains the deadliest mass shooting in the US. Many states are also currently debating legislation to take guns from owners who are suspected to be a danger to themselves or others for at least a short period of time.
Gun Violence and Law Enforcement
In situations of gun-based violence, the first responders are local law enforcement. When police are on the scene, their protocols dictate that they first try to negotiate with a suspect threatening violence before engaging in a firefight. Some forces have a specific crisis negotiator on their squad while others require officers to undergo negotiation training in case they are faced with an active shooter or similarly violent individual. Negotiation tactics begin with trying to calm the situation by bringing the emotions down. According to one crisis management expert, acknowledging the emotions of a shooter or similarly violent person must take place before attempting to show them the logic of a situation. While negotiation tactics do not always work to diffuse a situation, those protocols are in place to avoid further violence when possible.
Guns in America have become a topic of discussion the world over, especially with regards to comparisons between how our country handles mass shooting incidents versus how others do. In the aftermath of the mosque shootings in New Zealand, media outlets across the globe criticized the United States for not doing more to protect its people from gun violence. However, the US concerns itself with individual freedoms first and foremost. As we continue the discussion about the place guns should have in our country, we may find this was a common thread all along.