I grew up on a country road outside the small town of Leesville, LA. At the entrance to the road was a trailer where a friend of mine used to live. Some time after he moved away, the trailer became “Bunn & Sons Gun Shop,” with a red arrow painted to indicate the “gun show” around back. Why was a gun show in continuous operation behind a trailer on my road?
I didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out that the “gun show” was a response to the Brady Bill, enabling Bunn & Sons to use a loophole in the bill to sell handguns without a mandatory background check. Now, since this was the rural south, folks would always complain about how somebody was trying to take away their 2nd amendment rights. What is the actual text of the 2nd amendment?
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. – Bill of Rights, Amendment II
Reading these words, and interpreting them literally, it seems that the second amendment protects the right of the people to bear arms as part of a well-regulated militia. While the NRA would like to delete the first clause of the Amendment, it defines the right in the context of a militia, as noted in this summary at Thomson Findlaw.
The courts have clearly decided that the right to own a tank, rocket-propelled grenade launcher, or even a sawed-off shotgun is not necessarily protected under the 2nd Amendment. In the US v Miller, 1939, the Supreme Court Justice McReynolds wrote,
“In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a ‘shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length’ at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument.”
Federal firearms regulations also regulate the sale and transfer of firearms through the aforementioned Brady Bill and other legislation. Until recently, they also banned an entire class of semi-automatic weapons known as assault weapons.
Back to Bunn & Sons, and their “gun show”: all Bunn may have been trying to do was increase his business by removing the hurdle of an electronic background check from the sales process. In a larger context, the NRA has fought to keep the private-sale loophole available, in order to eliminate the background check process where possible. But why is the NRA so afraid of background checks? They argue that the overwhelming majority of American gun owners are law abiding citizens; then why not subject gun sales to the same level of scrutiny placed on prescription drug sales? For better or worse, guns are a part of American culture, and European-style gun restrictions will not and should not take place here. But with the advent of instant background checks, is it too much to ask that we control gun sales at least as much as we control sales of heart medication?