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For Educators:
Gun Control and Terrorism: Laws or Loopholes?
More on This Lesson:
PBS has received numerous comments from individuals expressing their concerns about the lesson plan available on this site. The producers wish to point out that the plans do not advocate a specific point of view about the second amendment and gun control -- rather they encourage students to explore the topic further and effectively express their own thoughts and ideas about it. These lesson plans correlate to national standards for developing students' knowledge of civics, including the role of government and the constitution.

Lesson Plan

This lesson is designed for Social Studies classrooms, grades 9-12

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will:
  1. Examine the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment and justify whether or not it has been properly interpreted over time.
  2. Research and organize key arguments, laws, interest groups, and other fundamentals of gun control.
  3. Explore the complexity of gun control issues as they relate to America's fight against terrorist activities.
  4. Defend the wording of the Second Amendment or propose a new constitutional amendment that students believe will better address gun control issues.

Related National Standards


1. Understands ideas about civic life, politics, and government.

2. Understands the essential characteristics of limited and unlimited governments.

3. Understands the sources, purposes, and functions of law, and the importance of the rule of law for the protection of individual rights and the common good.

4. Understands the concept of a constitution, the various purposes that constitutions serve, and the conditions that contribute to the establishment and maintenance of constitutional government.

8. Understands the central ideas of American constitutional government and how this form of government has shaped the character of American society.

10. Understands the roles of voluntarism and organized groups in American social and political life.

18. Understands the role and importance of law in the American constitutional system and issues regarding the judicial protection of individual rights.

19. Understands what is meant by "the public agenda," how it is set, and how it is influenced by public opinion and the media.

20. Understands the roles of political parties, campaigns, elections, and associations and groups in American politics.

Estimated Time to Complete Lesson

Three to five 45-minute class periods

Materials Needed

  • Handout: Gun Land: Gun Control and Terrorism (PDF File)
  • Internet access, or copies of relevant pages
  • Library research materials (if desired) on gun control, special interest groups, and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
  • Copy of the in-depth report on gun control and terrorism from the 11/15/02 NOW WITH BILL MOYERS broadcast and TV/VCR (Note: A free transcript of this segment is available on the NOW Web site. Teachers may also tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Alternatively, programs are available for purchase from ShopPBS.
  • Chart paper and markers

Backgrounder for Teachers

Gun control has become a primary political issue in the United States, largely as a result of growing violence in the nation. While new laws exist to control the purchase of illegal firearms, there remains an ongoing debate regarding the extent and constitutionality of these laws. This debate has become more heated in the aftermath of 9/11 as terrorist factions have seemingly found loopholes in gun control laws, enabling them to purchase and stockpile weapons.

This lesson addresses the complexities associated with gun control laws, including the interpretative nature of the Second Amendment; the role of powerful special interest groups; individuals' constitutional rights regarding the purchase of firearms; and the challenge of creating and upholding laws.

To review information related to gun control, the U.S. Constitution, or other topics addressed in this lesson, please see the references listed in the Related Resources section.

Assumed Student Prior Knowledge

Students should have a basic understanding of the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights and the role of the Constitution in the activities of government. Knowledge of how laws are made, including how special interest lobbying efforts influence lawmaking, would also be helpful. Finally, students should be aware of current events involving terrorism.

Teaching Strategy

1. Ask students whether they think American citizens should have the right to own guns. Distribute a copy of the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment to each student. Invite students to take a few minutes to review the amendment and jot down what they know regarding gun rights and restrictions, listing current issues involving the Second Amendment whenever possible. Are there times when the Second Amendment does not or should not apply? Invite students to share their thoughts.

2. Write "gun control" on the chalkboard and invite students to explain what they believe the term means. Help students expand their understanding of gun control by grouping them into research teams and assigning each group one of the following gun control sub-topics to investigate:

  • main arguments FOR gun control
  • main arguments AGAINST gun control
  • key court decisions that emphasize the interpretive nature of the Second Amendment
  • gun control positions of the major political parties
  • the activities of special interest groups on each side of the issue
  • key gun laws
  • proposed legislation to modify existing gun laws
  • how U.S. gun laws compare to those of other countries
The NOW Web site features the following information to assist with student research: Please also see the Related Resources section of this lesson for an extensive listing of other research sources that will be helpful to students.

4. Have each research team organize summary bullet points of their findings on chart paper and then display them in a designated wall space in the classroom. Invite each team to peruse the findings of the other groups and aggregate the class' gun control information in a graphic organizer, such as a hierarchy diagram. (An example of a hierarchy diagram can be found at Ask students to examine their diagrams and briefly justify whether or not the Second Amendment has been properly interpreted over time.

5. Explain to students that they will now watch an approximately 16-minute news report that shows how America's leaders are struggling with the complexity of gun control issues as they work to limit the activities of terrorists. Distribute the handout, "Gunland: Gun Control and Terrorism" to help students capture key ideas from the report. (Alternatively, you could distribute copies of the story's transcript and have students complete the handout.) Review the instructions on the handout and then show the segment or distribute the transcript.

6. After watching (or reading) the report, allow students the opportunity to discuss issues, questions, and ideas the video has raised for them, referring to their handouts. What was new to them? What issues stood out for them? To further discussion, pose some or all of the following questions:

  • What is the connection between terrorism and the gun control debate?
  • What are some of the loopholes in existing gun control laws? How can such loopholes be eliminated, and if so, would their absence reduce illegal firearm purchases? Explain.
  • What are some ways people illegally purchase firearms?
  • What is the role of special interest groups, such as the National Rifle Association, in the creation of gun control laws? Do such special interests support or negate efforts to curb gun violence and terrorism?
  • What constitutional issues arise when considering ways to enforce gun control laws? How does the Second Amendment apply to the gun control debate and laws?
  • What might have influenced Attorney General John Ashcroft's decision to stop the FBI from checking the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to see if any suspected terrorists had bought guns?
  • Is it possible to create gun control laws that would not be considered unconstitutional? Explain.
  • Is gun control a viable tool to combat terrorism? Explain.
7. Briefly review with students how the U.S. Constitution is amended. (See Related Resources for Web sites describing this process.) Then, have students re-examine how the Constitution deals with the right to bear arms and either defend in writing the Constitution's current approach or propose a new constitutional amendment that they believe better addresses the issues. Have students present and explain their positions and then come to consensus as a class on what would work best given the complexities of gun control.

Assessment Recommendations

  1. Create a rubric to assess level of student participation in small group and class activities.
  2. Assess the accuracy and completeness of student gun control diagrams.
  3. Give credit for notes taken on the "Gunland: Gun Control and Terrorism" handout.
  4. Have students critique each other's proposed constitutional amendments.

Extension Ideas

1. Analyze the political cartoons "Cabinet Position" and "Gun Battle" and then draw original political cartoons reflecting student perspectives on the gun control debate.

2. Create a scrapbook of newspaper articles highlighting recent events that support or negate the need for enhanced gun control laws. Students can synthesize the events in the form of a narrative or timeline that reflects their perspective on the subject.

3. Research and identify the stances on gun control for members of Congress that represent your students or who hold leadership positions related to gun issues. Have students infer and provide evidence for the extent to which bipartisan politics does or does not drive these leaders' points of view.

4. Suggest modifications for existing gun control laws that balance public safety with the right to bear arms. Have students defend proposed modifications with court cases, historical precedents, and other measures.

Related Resources

Below are some sites that provide useful information related to this lesson's topic. Be sure to also see NOW's Gun Debate Resource page.

Amendments to the United States Constitution lists the actual text of all constitutional amendments.

Constitutional Amendments
The United States Constitution Online details how amendments are added to the Constitution, lists amendments proposed in recent sessions of Congress, and outlines historical amendments that never passed.

Educational Resources: Guns
The Bill of Rights Institute seeks to provide high school students and teachers with a variety of resources, including this page of links to gun control resources, including statistics, legislation information, court cases, etc.

Interest Groups and Lobbying
General information on interest groups and lobbying from Nelson, an educational company.

Milestones in Federal Gun Control Legislation provides an annotated timeline of the history of gun legislation and organizations in the United States from 1791 to the present.

Current Events Resources:

A report on cheap handguns, their manufacturers, and the gun market. Resources include pro/con readings related to guns issues, an online quiz, maps illustrating the coverage of local and national legislation, photos of some handguns, interviews explaining various perspectives, and more.

Gun Control News's U.S. Gov Info/Resources lists articles and commentary on gun control from a variety of news organizations.

Online NewsHour Debate: Right to Bear Arms
A May 8, 2002 NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHRER discussion on gun control issues with four Constitutional and legal scholars.

Online NewsHour Focus: Court Strikes Down Gun Rule
A June 27. 1997 NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHRER report on the Supreme Court's decision to eliminate background checks on handgun purchasers, plus additional coverage on the gun control debate.

Perspectives Favoring the Right to Bear Arms:

Legal Issues from Gun Rights Leaders
The Second Amendment Foundation, a pro-gun rights organization, aggregates second amendment-related resources on court cases, gun laws, law reviews, and the U.S. Constitution.

National Rifle Association
The official Web site of the major pro-gun membership and lobbying association in the United States.

Policy Issues from the NCPA Idea House
The National Center for Policy Analysis presents a series of articles, court cases, and other resources that support the right to bear arms. Scroll down to the "Self-Defense & Gun Control" drop-down menu.

Pro-Gun Rights
DMOZ, an Internet directory of links, lists multiple gun control informational sites supporting the pro-gun perspective.

Perspectives Favoring Gun Control:

Americans for Gun Safety
The Web site for an organization that seeks a middle of the road approach to gun control, safety and ownership issues.

Brady Center: Guns and Terror
The Brady Center, an organization that favors gun control, provides a report that details how terrorists use weak gun laws to amass firearms in the United States.

Gun Control Fact Sheets
The Violence Policy Center, a group that favors gun control, provides a series of gun policy fact sheets, backgrounders on various issues, and statistics. Resources on gun control legislation is also available. The VPC also offers these reports related to guns and terrorism:

Firearms Training for Jihad in America
This November 2001 study describes the contents of a Jihad training manual that advocates participation in legal gun acquisition and arms training available to the public in countries like the U.S.

Voting From the Rooftops: How the Gun Industry Armed Osama bin Laden, Other Foreign and Domestic Terrorists, and Common Criminals with 50 Caliber Sniper Rifles

This October 2001 study outlines concerns related to the availability of rifles and how such weapons are aiding terrorist activities.

The Truth About the Second Amendment
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an organization that favors gun control, offers background articles on the Second Amendment, related court cases, and other resources.

About the Author
Michele Israel has been an educator in varied capacities for over 20 years. As founder and director of Educational Consulting Group, Israel currently serves non-profit and educational institutions, providing services including strategic planning, curriculum development, and project management, produces learning materials and writes articles for companies such as the Public Broadcasting Service, Education World, and CNN/Turner Learning.

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