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Firearms Regulation: A Historical Overview (From Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, Volume 28, P 137-195, 2001, Michael Tonry, ed. -- See NCJ-192542)

NCJ Number
Date Published
69 pages

This article traces the development of America's gun laws and the past, present, and future controversies and challenges facing the Second Amendment.


In the absence of legislative and judicial interest that allowed for a heated debate following a dramatic increase in violent crime in the late 1960's, a period of intense legal confusion existed on the rights and responsibilities of gun ownership by the century's end. America's goal of arming some citizens for defense clashed with efforts to prevent the dangerous classes from possessing guns. This essay traced the development of America's gun laws with a focus on early historical legislation and the historical challenges and controversies placed on the Second Amendment. The essay begins with an examination of the English common law heritage and its impact on colonial America. The second section reviewed the development of the Second Amendment prior to turning to the statute law and judicial decisions that directed legal conduct under this first constitutional system. The essay continues with Section III that traces the nature of gun regulation under the revised constitutional system that came about by the Reconstruction era amendments. The fourth and final section of the essay examines the challenged ground of Second Amendment law that began with the indifference toward widespread gun ownership during a period dominated by the Cold War. With all the historical review, the study of gun laws in America is considered in its infancy. A systematic examination of the enforcement of gun laws or their impact would prove a valuable addition to the historical literature and would aid in indicating the substance of public attitudes toward gun ownership in America. References

Date Published: January 1, 2001