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Voices from the Debate

It is news to no American that the debate surrounding gun ownership and the Second Amendment is a contentious one. It has been even more complex in the wake of the September 11 and Washington sniper attacks, which led to a surge in gun purchases, but also to concerns about weapons getting into the hands of potential terrorists.

Below are some selections from the ongoing debate. You can find much more information by visiting these Web sites, which cover a wide spectrum of opinion on the matter. You can also find out about the gun laws in your state by visiting the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Web site.

There are also several firearms-related bills in front of the U.S. Congress. Some of these may be reintroduced in the 2003 session.

Pro-Gun RightsPro-Gun Control
"Besides the advantage of being armed, which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate [State] governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit to. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms."

-James Madison, Federalist Papers, Article 46 January 29, 1788

"In the 20th century, the Second Amendment has become an anachronism, largely because of drastic changes in the militia it was designed to protect. We no longer have the citizen militia like that of the 18th century. Today's equivalent of a "well-regulated" militia - the National Guard - has more limited membership than its early counterpart and depends on government-supplied, not privately owned, firearms. Gun control laws have no effect on the arming of today's militia, since those laws invariably do not apply to arms used in the context of military service and law enforcement. Therefore, they raise no serious Second Amendment issues."

- Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, The Second Amendment

"Mightn't it be better in those areas of high crime to arm the homeowner and the shopkeeper, teach him how to use his weapons and put the word out to the underworld that it is no longer totally safe to rob and murder? One wonders indeed if the rising crime rate isn't due as much as anything to the criminal's instinctive knowledge that the average victim no longer has any means of protection. No one knows how many crimes are committed because the criminal knows he has a soft touch. No one knows how many stores have been left alone because the criminals knew them to be guarded by a man with a gun."

- President Ronald Reagan, Letter to the Editor, GUN & AMMO, 1975

"Assault weapons in the hands of civilians exist for no reason but to inspire fear and wreak deadly havoc on our streets"

- President Bill Clinton, Weekly Radio Address to the Nation, Saturday, November 15, 1997; As quoted in THE WASHINGTON POST, Nov. 16, 1997 on Page A12.

"The job of the anti-gun think tanks is to come up with headlines that will change public opinion. If they have to fudge the numbers, they will do so."

- Joseph P. Tartaro, Second Amendment Foundation President and GUN WEEK Executive Editor

"The Bushmaster XM15 M4 A3 assault rifle used by the Washington, DC-area sniper provides a clear illustration of how and why the federal assault weapons ban needs to be strengthened and renewed…"

- Violence Policy Center press release

"Ownership of weapons makes genocides more difficult to commit...but it takes effective weapons to stop genocide entirely." (original italics)

- From in reference to the Nazi Holocaust perpetrated against the Jews.

"Fear, physical pain, and death are just part of the price Americans pay for the easy access of handguns. It is estimated that the total costs to Americans of gun violence (the vast majority of which involves handguns) is measured in tens of billions of dollars.3 In comparison, the wholesale value of the 1.3 million handguns manufactured in America in 1998 totaled only $370 million."

- Josh Sugarmann from the introduction to EVERY HANDGUN IS AIMED AT YOU

"The danger inherent in this mindset [banning guns because of the possibility of potential harm] is why those very wise men we call the Founding Fathers instilled the principle of "innocent until proven guilty." Such a principle prevents the grouping of people into perceived-dangerous groups, and forces us to deal with people as individuals, with individual motives and morals. It is the only way to live in a free society."

- Michael Mitchell of

"Homicides, suicides, and unintentional injuries committed with guns take a staggering human and economic toll on our society every day. The number of injuries and deaths has risen dramatically since the nation's founding in 1776. Currently, nearly 30,000 Americans die from firearms each year."

- Join Together Online, Overview from the Constitution to Today,

"But, women are the fastest growing segment of gun owners and NRA members. And, what motivates these daughters, mothers and grandmothers to purchase firearms? The answer is elementary; keeping themselves and their loved ones safe."

- Letter to Editor from James Jay Baker, NRA Institute for Legislative Action, in response to an LA TIMES Editorial arguing Republicans should court women voters by supporting gun control measures.

"With nearly one thousand unintentional deaths each year — and perhaps 17,000 nonfatal, unintentional gunshot wounds — redesigning weapons in order to reduce the number of unintentional incidents is reasonable, prudent and has nothing to do with "gun control." It has to do with public safety."

- Doctors Against Handgun Injury, "The Issues: Treating Guns as Consumer Products"

Recent Gun Related Legislation

Crackdown on Deadbeat Dealers Act of 2002
The Crackdown on Deadbeat Dealers Act of 2002, introduced by Representative James R. Langevin (D-RI), seeks to hold licensed gun dealers responsible for the products they sell. By increasing the number of inspections, the bill will make it easier for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) to monitor whether licensed gun dealers abide by lawful record keeping requirements. The last major action on the legislation occurred on May 6, 2002, when it was referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

Firearms Manufacture Bill
Introduced by Representative Cliff Stearns (R-FL), the Firearms Manufacture Bill protects gun and ammunition manufacturers, as well as the trade groups that represent them, from criminal and financial liability if their products are used illegally. The bill has garnered 231 co-sponsors. On October 8, 2002, the bill was prepared for the floor. Presently, the bill remains on the Union Calendar, No. 456, awaiting floor discussion.

Trooper Timothy Mossbruker Memorial Act
Named for a slain Colorado state trooper, the Act would amend the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act to stop "the transfer or possession of .50 caliber sniper rifles." Sponsored by Representative Rod Blagojevich (D-IL), the last major action was taken November 27, 2001, wheen the bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime.

Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act
On July 10, 2002 the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act passed the House of Representatives. The bill seeks to deputize and provide training to volunteer pilots to protect airplane cockpits from "acts of criminal violence or air piracy." Originally sponsored by Representative Don Young (D-AK), the bill currently has 56 co-sponsors. Presently, the bill resides on the Senate Legislative Calendar.

Some of these bills will be reintroduced in the 2003 Congressional session.
GUN LAND is a continuation of research which began with KQED/CIR's own hour-long documentary, GUN SHOTS, which looked at how illegal guns get into the hands of criminals in United States.

GUN LAND is a NOW with Bill Moyers co-production of KQED and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

More on this story, "The Guns of Opa-Locka" by Jake Bergman and Julia Reynolds, appears in the December 2, 2002 issue of THE NATION magazine.

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