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The complex structure of the American government was developed from its historically independent territories. Currently, the United States of America is one of the world’s federations – countries that adopted federalism as the government framework. In this system, two levels of government –regional and general – are usually combined.1 In the US, the general segment is represented by the federal government, while the regional level of authority is given to the states.2 Each type of government possesses a set of duties and powers that it can exercise in the region, and the relationship between the levels is established in the Constitution.
In the US, the federal government has enumerated powers that are exercised by Congress. The Constitution lists the explicit powers possessed by Congress as well as protects the autonomy of states in some cases.3 Overall, the federal government can create and enforce property and labor laws, commerce regulations and relations, estate laws, inheritance, education policies, corporations and public health laws, and similar general standards. Congress can declare war and maintain armies and navy forces.4 State governments have reserved powers and can adapt certain general laws to fit their local environment, passing policies about healthcare, education, labor, and other spheres of life. Tribal governments are organized by Native American communities, and the Constitution considers them to be separate from federal and state entities.5 They may possess their own laws, tax regulations, and courts.
The court system of the US, therefore, also separated according to the federalist view of the country. First of all, a number of federal courts examine situations that are connected to the Constitution and its laws.6 As the federal government oversees such issues as state relations, navy, corporate law, and foreign relations, its courts hear cases related to these topics as well. Second, state courts, similarly to their role in governing, concern themselves with local disputes that are not under the jurisdiction of the federal government. States deal with common law, involving civil and criminal cases and using both the Constitution and local laws for guidance.7 Finally, tribal court systems operate under the tribal government structure and deal with matters directly related to their internal community affairs.
As can be seen, the American system of government is built on a level of autonomy that remained from the country’s initial formation. The governments and courts of the federal, state and tribal levels have their own powers and limitations, with all elements functioning to support their respective communities. The federal government is concerned with the country as a single entity, the states are focused on their territories, and native communities build structures to preserve their culture and place in the nation.
US History and the Law
From the beginning, the history of the US as a united nation has been strongly connected to gun culture. Examining the period of the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), one can see how Americans treated firearms and how the latter became a part of the Bill of Rights and the subject of perpetual heated debates.8 It is possible to argue that gun laws and the establishment of the Second Amendment, in particular, were influenced by the social norms presiding during the period of the country’s formation.
The early history of the United States shows that the country was formed by people who came to the land already inhabited by Native Americans. Early settlers considered firearms to be a necessity in households to protect themselves and their families from tribes and foreigners. Moreover, as America was first a colony of Great Britain, its hostility towards the owning state grew into a massive protest and a revolutionary war.9 These were activities that the nations’ creators and supporters could not perform without being equipped with proper weapons. As a result, during and after the war, guns were elevated from a simple tool of combat to a piece of property that Americans had the right to possess.
Arguably, this relationship with firearms as a source of protection and autonomy had an impact on the US Constitution. In the Second Amendment, the “security of a free State” is the main reason that is mentioned to support American’s right to keep and bear arms.10 Here, one can see the strong cultural power that firearms had among the country’s residents. The previous history of the territories became a vital factor in the creation of this particular amendment since it demonstrated the crucial role of guns in the establishment of independence.
To sum up, the period of the American Revolutionary War and Americans’ emergence as a nation separate from the British colonies has made the right to bear arms a fundamental principle of the people. The need to possess a gun to protect oneself from intruders was transformed into a belief that firearms were essential in establishing and protecting the freedom of the American people. As a result, the Second Amendment was created, and gun culture developed into a major theme in US society.
Change in the Law
As one can see, the present gun culture is still strongly influenced by the historical role of firearms in the US independence and safety. However, the latest events demonstrate that this legal right may need to be challenged on the countrywide level. The following analysis shows how the gun control debate is handled in the US. It reveals the outcomes that access to firearms has on US citizens and discusses how an increase in mass shootings is changing the attitudes of future add current voters. Finally, it compares the effect of the Second Amendment and other countries’ gun-related laws on national crime rates. The central change proposal is increased gun control that includes extensive background checks, training, official licensure, and restricted purposes.
Currently, the results of the Second Amendment make gun ownership a right for many American citizens. In some states, the lack of regulation allows people to carry various firearms in public spaces (including concealed and open carrying), store them on private property, and purchase gun supplies without any restrictions.11 Therefore, one’s potential for accessing a firearm is extremely high – a person can choose to buy a gun, as well as enter a gun owner’s property to steal it. Furthermore, one has to highlight the absence of control measures for who can buy or carry firearms, including previous criminal records, mental health, and the knowledge of using and servicing dangerous equipment.12
Several studies show that the outcomes of such lax laws are substantial. According to Lankford, the rate of public mass shootings in a country is directly related to its rules on gun control. The author compares the regulations of more than 150 nations and finds that such factors as suicide or cross-national homicide rates do not have an impact on countries’ prevalence of mass shootings.13 The access to firearms, however, plays a significant role in such events, placing the US on the list of countries with the most mass shootings in the world. Using state data in the US, Reeping et al. come to similar conclusions, showing that states that have less strict laws have a higher amount of mass shootings.14
To examine the national laws and crime rates in more detail, one can explore the data from the US, Venezuela, and Japan. Venezuela is chosen for comparison as a country with high homicide rates, while Japan is considered due to its strict gun control policies. The investigation shows that Venezuela’s crime rate does not result in a high number of mass shootings, allowing one to argue that gun ownership by civilians is a significant factor in this comparison.15 Japan’s crime rate is substantially lower than in other counties, and its rate of gun-related deaths is around ten incidents per year.16 In contrast, the US rates are much higher for suicides, homicides, and accidental discharge, reaching a total of more than 30 thousand.17 Such a major difference points to the idea of gun control as a strong influencing factor.
Therefore, one can see that there exists a direct link between one’s access to firearms and the rate of gun-related offenses in the region. Furthermore, it is essential to discuss the impact that such crimes, namely mass shootings, have on people. First of all, some research shows that previous or recent mass killings can increase the risk of repeating events, causing a growing rate of shootings in the area. An exceptionally high prevalence of such contagion is found in schools, where shooting incidents can influence young people to recreate the events in less than two weeks.18 These results demonstrate the danger of being in public spaces in locations where gun control laws are inexistent. Second, apart from the immediate life-threatening risks, some long-term outcomes develop in survivors and relatives of victims. It is found that people’s proximity to the event increases the chance of them developing severe mental health problems, including anxiety, paranoia, and post-traumatic stress syndrome.19 Other negative consequences are decreased academic performance and reduced enrollment grades.20 Overall, one can see that people are affected by gun-related crimes in the short- and long term.
The recently increased rate of violent crimes impacted the opinions of US citizens about gun control. The number of young activists protesting easy access to firearms continues to grow. Presenting themselves as the center of the gun control debate, young adults are discussing whether regulated gun ownership can reduce the rate of mass shootings.21 Similarly, adults that own guns also support more restrictive conditions for purchasing and carrying firearms.22 Therefore, this law change is possible as it is backed by populations affected by the policy.
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The combination of data on gun-related crimes, the connection between access to firearms and mass shootings, and the long-term impacts of shootings on people’s health and achievements were presented. They make a strong argument for changing the current gun culture in the US by adding strong regulatory policies on the national and state levels. While full rights to gun ownership do not have to be revoked, there exists enough evidence to support background checks, training, and licensing. Furthermore, it is vital to consider the reasons for citizens to own a gun as well as the types of firearms that should be available to the public.
Blocher, Joseph, and Darrell Miller. “What Is Gun Control: Direct Burdens, Incidental Burdens, and the Boundaries of the Second Amendment.” The University of Chicago Law Review 83 (2016): 295-355.
Broschek, Jörg. “Federalism in Europe, America and Africa: A Comparative Analysis.” In Federalism and Decentralization: Perceptions for Political and Institutional Reforms, edited by Wilhelm Hofmeister and Edmund Tayao, 23-50. Singapore: Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2016.
Fisher, Max, and Josh Keller. “What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer.” The New York Times, 2017. Web.
Lankford, Adam. “Public Mass Shooters and Firearms: A Cross-National Study of 171 Countries.” Violence and Victims 31, no. 2 (2016): 187-199.
Lowe, Sarah R., and Sandro Galea. “The Mental Health Consequences of Mass Shootings.” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 18, no. 1 (2017): 62-82.
Pederson, Jo, Thomas L. Hall, Bradley Foster, and Jessie E. Coates. “Gun Ownership and Attitudes Toward Gun Control in Older Adults: Re-Examining Self Interest Theory.” American Journal of Social Science Research 1, no. 5 (2015): 273-281.
Reeping, Paul M., Magdalena Cerdá, Bindu Kalesan, Douglas J. Wiebe, Sandro Galea, and Charles C. Branas. “State Gun Laws, Gun Ownership, and Mass Shootings in the US: Cross Sectional Time Series.” BMJ 364 (2019): l542.
Robertson, David Brian. Federalism and the Making of America. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2017.
Towers, Sherry, Andres Gomez-Lievano, Maryam Khan, Anuj Mubayi, and Carlos Castillo-Chavez. “Contagion in Mass Killings and School Shootings.” PLoS One 10, no. 7 (2015): e0117259.
Travers, Áine, Tracey McDonagh, and Ask Elklit. “Youth Responses to School Shootings: A Review.” Current Psychiatry Reports 20, no. 6 (2018): 47.
Van Sparrentak, Murphy, Tammy Chang, Alison L. Miller, Lauren P. Nichols, and Kendrin R. Sonneville. “Youth Opinions About Guns and Gun Control in the United States.” JAMA Pediatrics 172, no. 9 (2018): 884-886.
Yamane, David. “The Sociology of US Gun Culture.” Sociology Compass 11, no. 7 (2017): e12497.
- David Brian Robertson, Federalism and the Making of America, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2017), 25.
- Robertson, Federalism, 33.
- Jörg Broschek, “Federalism in Europe, America and Africa: A Comparative Analysis,” in Federalism and Decentralization: Perceptions for Political and Institutional Reforms, ed. Wilhelm Hofmeister and Edmund Tayao (Singapore: Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2016), 24.
- Robertson, Federalism, 36.
- Broschek, “Federalism,” 35.
- Robertson, Federalism, 198.
- David Yamane, “The Sociology of US Gun Culture,” Sociology Compass 11, no. 7 (2017): e12497.
- Yamane, “The Sociology,” e12497.
- Joseph Blocher and Darrell Miller, “What Is Gun Control: Direct Burdens, Incidental Burdens, and the Boundaries of the Second Amendment,” The University of Chicago Law Review 83 (2016): 296.
- Adam Lankford, “Public Mass Shooters and Firearms: A Cross-National Study of 171 Countries,” Violence and Victims 31, no. 2 (2016): 189.
- Adam Lankford, “Public Mass Shooters,” 192.
- Paul M. Reeping et al., “State Gun Laws, Gun Ownership, and Mass Shootings in the US: Cross-Sectional Time Series,” BMJ 364 (2019): l542.
- Adam Lankford, “Public Mass Shooters,” 193.
- Max Fisher and Josh Keller, “What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer,” The New York Times, Web.
- Max Fisher and Josh Keller, “What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings?”
- Sherry Towers et al., “Contagion in Mass Killings and School Shootings,” PLoS One 10, no. 7 (2015): e0117259.
- Sarah R. Lowe and Sandro Galea, “The Mental Health Consequences of Mass Shootings,” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 18, no. 1 (2017): 62-63.
- Áine Travers, Tracey McDonagh, and Ask Elklit, “Youth Responses to School Shootings: A Review,” Current Psychiatry Reports 20, no. 6 (2018): 47.
- Murphy Van Sparrentak et al., “Youth Opinions About Guns and Gun Control in the United States,” JAMA Pediatrics 172, no. 9 (2018): 884.
- Jo Pederson et al., “Gun Ownership and Attitudes Toward Gun Control in Older Adults: Re-Examining Self Interest Theory,” American Journal of Social Science Research 1, no. 5 (2015): 273.