ATLANTA — The right to bear arms is fundamental to the U.S., carved into the Constitution and seemingly embedded in the national DNA. But after a seemingly endless stretch of violence, Americans are confronting how far those rights extend, propelling gun issues to the forefront of this year’s elections.
Do Americans have the right to have AR-style firearms, the long guns with a military look used in the past year in several mass shootings? Should they be able to buy magazines that hold 10 or more bullets? Can those on a terrorist watchlist, but not charged with a crime, be allowed to buy a gun? Should every gun buyer have to pass a background check?
WHERE THEY STAND
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are like bookends marking the divide that exists in the U.S. today on gun issues.
Trump casts himself as an ardent protector of the Second Amendment and proclaims that if more “good guys” were armed with firearms there would be fewer gun tragedies. He even went a step further than the National Rifle Association after the Orlando nightclub shooting, suggesting that if it weren’t a gun-free zone, a patron would have been able to stop the bloodshed. (The NRA, while supporting Trump, said it’s not a good idea to allow firearms where alcohol is being served.)
Trump also has vowed that on his first day as president he would end gun-free zones at schools and on military bases. He also supports reciprocity among all 50 states for concealed-carry permits.
Clinton, whose husband as president successfully pushed for a 10-year ban on assault-type weapons, has advocated renewing that ban. She’s also called for measures to ensure background checks are completed before a gun sale goes forward, mandating such checks for gun-show sales and repealing a law that shields gun manufacturers from liability.
WHY IT MATTERS
The next president will get to nominate at least one member of a Supreme Court that’s closely divided on how to read the Second Amendment, and the next Congress will continue to confront gun-rights issues.
Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February and will be replaced by a nominee from the next president, was the decisive vote in a Washington, D.C., case in which the court on a 5-4 vote affirmed the right of individuals to own handguns for self-defense.
Whatever gun policies a Clinton or Trump administration were to pursue would probably be challenged, and Scalia’s replacement could be the pivotal vote. This year alone, for example, the court sided with gun control advocates to rule that people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes can be barred from owning weapons, and also rejected challenges to assault weapon bans in Connecticut and New York.
A recent AP-GfK Poll found the highest levels of support for restrictions on guns since the question was first asked in 2013. That’s a sharp departure from the past two presidential election years, when gun issues were largely absent from the campaigns.
Much has happened to bring guns to the forefront again: Charleston. Orlando. Oregon. San Bernardino. There’s even been a protest staged by members of Congress on the floor of the House.
There are roughly 300 million firearms in the United States and tens of thousands of shootings each year.
In a world that feels increasingly violent, whether at home or across the globe, America’s cowboy culture and the Second Amendment are under the microscope. Voters are asking what will make them safer, more guns or fewer?
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