Home > B1, Mr. O. Recommends > What the Gun Control Debate Teaches Us About Government

What the Gun Control Debate Teaches Us About Government

President Obama speaks after the Sandy Hook shooting

On December 14, 2012, a shooting occurred at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, claiming the lives of twenty young children. Soon after the tragedy, the United States became captivated with one question: What can be done to reduce gun-related violence? The ensuing debate about gun control has helped display many of the concepts that we have learned about in our government class. The Constitution, the pathways of action, and the powers of the Presidency have all come into play during the last few months. The current gun control discussion is an excellent real-life demonstration of how the government works together to deal with issues.

The first, and most basic, way that the gun control debate intersects with our government class is through the Constitution. During our learning, we have been asked to take on several case studies of the Constitution. We must interpret a Supreme Court case (real or fictional) and decide whether the events that transpire are constitutional or unconstitutional. In terms of the gun control debate, the second Amendment to the Constitution reads that“[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” (Amendment II). Obviously, this brings just as many questions as answers, but the interpretation that the law has used for most of American history until now is that American, adult citizens have the right to purchase and keep guns. However, in a government heavily influenced by John Locke, a major duty of government is to protect both its citizens’ lives and liberty. Thus, when certain firearms go well beyond the necessary stopping-power needed for protection, many believe that the government must implement gun control in order to keep Americans safe. On the other hand, there are great deals of people who argue that the government attempting to regulate guns violates the Second Amendment and interferes with the liberty that the government is meant to preserve. Because of the dichotomy of views on gun control, any potential legislation will likely have to be a compromise, that both ensures the safety of American citizens while not infringing too greatly on the rights of gun owners.

NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre gives a statement on gun control in the midst of protest

Another area in which our class and the real world have overlapped is the pathways of action. In the wake of Sandy Hook, the largest pro-gun lobby group, the National Rifle Association (NRA) made their official statement regarding gun control. Instead of conceding stricter gun laws, the NRA argued for increased protection, including armed guards within every school. Pro-gun control groups like the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence have also had their say. Additionally, individual Americans have attempted to create change through grassroots mobilization. Through the Internet and social media, getting the attention of many people has never been easier. Facebook posts, a variety of Twitter hashtags, YouTube videos, and whitehouse.gov petitions have all been used to try to create momentum for both pro and anti-gun control sentiments. Finally, a few politicians and leaders have attempted (albeit with little success so far) to enact cultural change. Many believe that American culture is too overtly violent, and some legislators have attempted to change that by adding potential restrictions on the depiction of violence in movies, television, and video games.

Finally, both the formal and informal powers of the President have been prominent throughout the last few months in the gun control debate. President Obama has strongly navigated the roles of Chief Legislator and Voice of the People. As Chief Legislator, Obama created a task force to explore all options available in the fight to reduce gun violence, and to make propositions about what needed to be done. During the State of the Union, Obama became the Voice of the People, concluding his address with a moving segment meant to stir up the American people and demand change. The President made use of Executive Orders after his initial proposal, and continues to play a key role in the discussion of the topic between Republicans and Democrats.

In the end, our government class has trained me to not just see the end product of a passed bill, but to also see all the work and effort in both directions that goes a nationwide policy debate such as the current argument about gun control. While the way in which our government works as a whole can be quite complicated, having knowledge of civics and government allows me to break down each component of change and progress. I believe in gun control policy that both keeps the public safe while respecting our freedoms and rights; government class has allowed me to make an informed opinion and analyze the situation.

  1. govsabkha
    February 21, 2013 at 9:25 am

    Bryce, your blog is truly an informative piece showing how gun control can teach us about the roles of government. In your second paragraph, you state “we have learned…”. It would be preferable to say what you have learned without actually stating it.

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