Gun Control in the USA: Everything you need to know about the contentious debate following the Las Vegas Massacre.

The biggest mass shooting in US history occurred in Las Vegas last week. Photo Source: The Rolling Stone.

Rachel McAdam, Contributor. 

Following the horrific events of Sunday night in Las Vegas, the debate over gun control in America has come under intense public scrutiny. Questions and concerns over why President Trump has failed to address this major issue, or revisit his stance on the subject have dominated the news and social media in the last number of days.

Why are the general public able to buy guns and ammunition legally in the USA?


The Second Amendment to the American Constitution protects the right to bear arms, with the only tangible restriction on acquiring a gun in the USA being your age –‘‘you have to be 18 to purchase a rifle or shotgun, and 21 to buy a handgun.’’

A licence is not mandatory and only fourteen states require a permit to possess a firearm. Although a background check is supposed to be carried out, many are incomplete. If the FBI do not complete the check within 3 days the customer is permitted to purchase the gun anyway.

People are able to buy guns off the internet and from ‘private’ sellers with relative ease.

Why was the Second Amendment included in the Constitution?


The forefathers of America introduced the Second Amendment to the Constitution in 1791, following the revolution against British colonists. During the revolt, American revolutionaries did not hold the right to bear arms and had to import guns from France and other foreign powers. As a result of this, the founding fathers recognised the benefits in a portion of the population being acquainted with firearms, in order to fight against a tyrannical federal government.

Debates about the phrasing of the Second 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.’’

It is commonly interpreted that the phrase ‘well-regulated Militia,’ implied that James Madison intended that the right to hold arms would be restricted to organised, state-controlled groups.

However, the alternative view held by many is that the Second Amendment was intended to apply to individuals, to protect themselves from danger.


Key arguments for gun control:


  • More guns mean more homicides and suicides. There are 88 guns for every 100 people in the USA and people in America are 25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries.

  • 54% of citizens support strict gun control, 91% are in favour of background checks.

  • Most US massacres are carried out using legal weapons.

  • Context of the Second Amendment – placement in history/contentious intention of the phrasing.

  • When confronted with a mass shooting, individuals being armed won’t help.

  • Look to other developed countries such as the UK and Australia as examples.


Key arguments against gun control:


  • Stricter gun control is an attack on the constitution and therefore against basic citizen rights.

  • There can be no restriction to fundamental rights – imagine the same logic being applied to freedom of the press.

  • Murder still occurs in countries where guns are banned.

  • Civilians help the authorities defend against criminals – e.g.. mass shooting Texas 1966, students used their rifles to assist police.

  • Prohibition did not stop alcohol; therefore, gun control will not stop the sales of guns. They will continue to be sold on the black market and the government will only miss out on taxation from sales.

Ties between political parties and the NRA.


There is a distinctly bipartisan attitude towards gun control and the NRA in the USA. Democrats generally support tighter gun control and Republicans largely support the NRA (National Rifle Association.)

The NRA is one of the most powerful special interest lobby groups in the US, officially spending $3 million per year to influence gun control. However, significant other sums of money are contributed to campaigns via PACs and independent expenditures.


President Trump’s stance/alliances.


Trump’s opinion on gun control has altered over the years. In his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, he stated that he opposed gun control ‘generally,’ but supported a ‘ban on assault weapons.’ He also supported Obama’s call for more stringent regulations following the Newton shooting in 2012.

As Trump became more serious about pursuing his bid for the Republican party presidential candidate in 2015, his views became increasingly anti-gun regulation in accordance with traditional conservative ties to the NRA.

Trump secured the NRA endorsement in 2016 and pledged to protect gun rights if elected as president in the upcoming election. He continually criticised opponent Hillary Clinton’s support of strict gun control throughout the campaign.

Despite the Las Vegas massacre being the most brutal in American history, with the total death account currently at 59 and at least 527 more injured, (correct at time of publication) the president has been vague with plans to revisit gun control.

He simply stated ‘‘We’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes on.’’


Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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