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One of the most controversial policy areas in America today is that of gun control. It's my observation that most law enforcement officers are against additional gun control laws and many even favor fewer restrictions on gun ownership by citizens. (This is in contrast to Chiefs of Police, who are usually politically-appointed officials and who in many agencies are more politician than police officer.) In that vein, I'm writing this piece expressing in some detail what I think might be a more-or-less law enforcement consensus view of the subject.
I am asking for your comments to gauge the opinions of the hundreds of thousands of LE officers who visit this site every month. Please comment below on this article.
No Controls Necessary?
First, there are a number of people - including some POs, I'm sure - who are of the opinion that no (that is, zero) controls are required on any arms. They will often cite a rights view of arms, specifically the second amendment's phrase "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." This minority view needs to be addressed first so that we can proceed to the main arguments.
There are two main lines of argument against this zero-controls view. First is the common sense one that no rational person believes that someone should be able to store a nuclear bomb in their basement or transport one in their car's trunk. Since (I trust) we all agree on this point, then we have all just agreed that there needs to be some restrictions on the meaning of "bearing arms" - it's just a matter of deciding what restrictions are appropriate.
The second line of argument is that both common sense, and certainly the courts, have always recognized that rights are subject to limitations. We all know that the first amendment's right of free speech (Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech...) does not give you the right to yell "fire" in a crowded theatre. We have all had drummed into us that the fourth amendment doesn't protect citizens from search and seizure, but rather from unreasonable searches and seizures. The eighth amendment protects us from excessive bail and fines, not bail and fines. And so on. Recognizing that rights can be justifiably limited, we can ask what restrictions might be reasonably placed on the "bearing of arms".
(Another line of argument might start by noting that probably the most powerful weapons available in the late 18th century when the Bill of Rights was written were cannons. Cannons are puny weapons compared to weapons today, and today's much more potent weapons make some restrictions advisable even if there were no restrictions at the time of our country's birth. This is an anti-strict-constructionist argument, and is thus a controversial one. Fortunately we don't need to go down this avenue since I trust that we've all pretty much agreed - as per above - that some restrictions can be appropriate; we just have to decide where the lines are drawn.)
A Well-Regulated Militia
The second amendment reads:
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.
The first two phrases of this amendment, A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, have been the source of much confusion and debate over the years about whether the right to "keep and bear arms" applies only to a militia and just what the modern-day equivalent of a militia is.