The Republican Party has from the outset made public its commitment to the paramount nature of freedom and individual responsibility. This belief is said to be a fundamental principle to the party. Republicans believe in smaller government with fewer regulations. They believe that such conditions bring about a more efficient way to manage the affairs of a nation.
This political posture generally extends to the rights of Americans to own firearms. Republicans believe that American citizens have the right to own, carry, and use guns. This belief rests on an ideological firmament grounded in the interpretation of the Constitution along with the basic philosophy of the party. The Republican stance on gun control circumducts that which the party believes is in harmony with its core ideologies — that the first ten amendments of the Constitution describe the undeniable rights of every individual American. Among these undeniable rights is “the right to bear arms” as spelled out in the Second Amendment. Republicans generally believe that changes in sociological norms have no bearing on the rights and freedoms defined by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The GOP (“Grand Old Party”) is keen to point out that the Republican position on gun rights does not flow from a fondness for weapons, but from a fundamental principle that calls for upholding certain rights that the nation was built upon. Republicans believe that governmental regulation of firearms is largely unconstitutional and therefore, most gun laws are an infringement on the individual’s rights to bear arms. The dominant point made by Republicans in this regard is that the Second Amendment gives the right to the individual to protect himself, his family, and his property.
Generally speaking, Republicans do not feel that every citizen in America has the right to own a gun. Instead, they believe that the inviolability of gun ownership rights is something that is better left to individual states to decide. To some degree, the conservative stance on the Second Amendment has been forged by cultural influences. Many of the traditional “red” states within the U.S are located in the Midwest or the South. Inhabitants from these regions tend to be enthusiastic supporters of hunting and recreational shooting. Indeed, for some of these citizens, a firearm is a source of sustenance. In this spirit, Conservatives honor the traditions and cultural influences surrounding traditional hunting, fishing, and shooting sports.
Conservative Philosophy and Gun Control
Conservative philosophy is deeply rooted in individual rights and the retention of traditional social institutions. Although there is no single set of tenets that can be universally viewed as conservative, American conservatism can be fairly characterized as a way of thinking that emphasizes stability and continuity, respect for republicanism, and support for tradition, “the rule of law,” and Christian values. The Conservative philosophy honors the defense of Western civilization from the challenges imposed upon it by a modernist culture, and the encroachments of totalitarian governments and outside entities (the U.N.) headquartered abroad. It should surprise no one who studies politics to discover that Republican ideology concurs with conservative values with respect to the broader justification of gun control. Indeed, Republican views on gun control can accurately be characterized as mostly adverse to gun control legislation initiated at the Federal level. This is so because most people who agree with Republican views on gun control consider government policy to be invasive if it interferes with the Constitutional rights of gun owners.
Democrats vs Republicans on Gun Control
The Republican Party is seen as a traditionally strong advocate for gun-rights. At every level of government the GOP receives far more in campaign contributions from the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) than the Democratic Party. Nominally, the GOP can be relied upon to oppose nearly all manner of gun control legislation apart from measures that restrict the criminal use of guns or the rights of convicted felons.
Some notable leaders within the Republican party have supported certain gun control measures in the past when it was politically achievable. In 1998, congress passed and the President signed into law the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988. All but a handful of Republican lawmakers voted in favor of the Act. The law “explicitly prohibits the possession or manufacturing of firearms undetectable by X-ray machines and metal detectors at security checkpoints around the country.” The original law as passed had a ten-year sunset provision and has been extended twice during the past 25 years. In December of 2013, this law was once again set to expire, but a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives approved another 10-year extension of the law. Most Republicans regarded the matter of undetectable plastic guns as a law-and-order issue voting in favor of the extension. Some GOP members of the House and Senate calculated that it was wise to push for a fast and clean extension of the law rather than try to negotiate with the Democrats — some of which were pushing for amendments to the bill in the wake of news reports that disclosed that advances in 3-D printing technology were making it possible for citizens to produce their own plastic handguns. Republican Representative from North Carolina, Howard Coble, has been quoted as saying after the vote: “While we have heard that some want to amend the bill when it arrives in the Senate, I urge our colleagues on the other side of Capitol Hill to quickly enact a clean 10-year re-authorization so that this ban on undetectable weapons will not expire. From all indications, the law is working well.”
Prominent Republicans Speak Out on Gun Restrictions
It would be a mistake to think that the whole of the Republican Party was of one mind when it comes to every aspect of the gun control issue. Differences between powerful and notable people within the party concerning gun rights can often be drawn based upon the geographical regions they are from and what positions they hold in the party.
The difficulty in finding a unifying principle pertaining to gun rights within the party is made more frustrating by media reports of gun violence in public places where the shooter wields some form of high-powered or high-capacity weapon. In the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, Wayne LaPierre, the Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association (NRA) delivered a public speech that contained language which essentially called for armed security personnel to be posted in every school. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre said.
The position of the NRA as articulated by its Executive VP was not an easy one for every Republican in the nation to absorb and take to heart. Senator Susan Collins is a moderate member of the GOP from the state of Maine. She is one of a very few Senate Republicans to support a recent proposal to expand background checks for gun buyers. She stated that she was not confident that other members of her party would be amenable to expanding background checks or restricting the sale of high-capacity magazines for certain guns. “The conversations that I’ve had with my Republican colleagues … and indeed my Democratic colleagues have really not focused on policy changes at this point,” she said. “It has focused on the horrible tragedy that has stunned and shocked all of us.”
John McCain on Gun Control
John McCain is a Republican Senator who admits to being “favorably disposed” to the Senate proposal calling for expanded background checks for gun buyers. Senator McCain has a B+ rating from the NRA. He has responded positively to the Senate proposal sponsored by Senators Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He is quoted as saying: ‘‘I appreciate their work, and the American people want to do what we can to prevent these tragedies. And there’s a lot more that needs to be done, particularly in the area of mental health.’’ It was in Senator McCain’s home state of Arizona that a mentally ill gunman shot Gabrielle Giffords, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, in the head nearly killing her during a 2011 rampage in which six people died.
Christ Christie on Gun Control
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican who is a supporter of stricter gun control laws is on record as one who believes that gun control ought to be part of a national discussion. “I think we need to have a large, national discussion… and gun control has to be part of it, too,” Christie said. He added: “New Jersey has the second toughest gun laws in the nation. But anyone who thinks fixing any one of those things solves the problem is kidding themselves. I believe it’s a continuum of all those things.”
In the weeks following the Sandy Hook school shooting, public polling of gun control shifted slightly in favor of more government intervention for the first time since President Barack Obama took office. None of this has swayed the more conservative members of the party who happen to be on the opposite side of the issue as Senators Collins and McCain. “You are going to have some people who never, never go there,” Representative Steve LaTourette, Republican of Ohio, mentioned to reporters when asked if he thought Republicans would ever enter into any kind of discussion pertaining to gun control. “I just don’t know what government can do to fix this,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told the press. “I don’t think that an assault weapons ban fixes the problem, because you’ve got 24 million guns out there already.”
Some Republican lawmakers on the state level have managed to push forward legislation that actually relaxes existing gun laws. In Missouri a proposed law, House Bill 436, would make it a criminal offense for the Federal government to enforce background checks of, or compile or publish a list of gun owners in that state. “This bill doesn’t put one new gun on the street,” according to Republican State Representative Doug Funderburk. “It strictly says that Missouri is going to protect the Second Amendment rights of Missourians.”
In St. Louis, State Representative Michael Leara (Republican), introduced a bill that would ban any form of gun control proposals within the state. The proposed law would make unlawful further gun rights restrictions as follows: “Any member of the general assembly who proposes a piece of legislation that further restricts the right of an individual to bear arms, as set forth under the second amendment of the Constitution of the United States, shall be guilty of a class D felony.”
The Democratic Position on Gun Control
Predictably, the Democratic Party’s stance on Second Amendment rights and matters concerning gun control is more sympathetic to the reliance on government to keep the population safe from gun violence. The Democratic Party recognizes citizen’s rights to bear arms, but it believes that Second Amendment rights are subject to reasonable regulations as upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States. Most Democrats believe that effective law enforcement can be enhanced when the existing background check system is strengthened. For its part, the Democratic Party managed to pass into law the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993, and an Assault Weapons Ban in 1994. Democrats favor mandatory child safety locks and a photo ID license together with background checks and mandatory gun safety tests as a condition for purchasing a gun. This is in sharp contrast to Republican views on gun control which rejects most of this as a matter of philosophy.
Mental Health Issues
The one area where Democrats and Republicans find common ground with respect to gun control is the issue of mental health. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers a Republican member of the House responded to C-SPAN commenters who asked whether she thought it was time to take a fresh look at current gun laws in consideration of the Sandy Hook shooting: “We need to find out what happened and what drove this individual to this place,” McMorris stated. “I think we have to be careful about new —suggesting new gun laws. We need to look at what drives a crazy person to do these kinds of actions and make sure that we’re enforcing the laws that are currently on the books. And yes, definitely, we need to do everything possible to make sure that something like this never happens again.”
The Mental Health First Aid Act of 2013 is a proposal for a new law that would amend section 520J of the Public Health Service Act to authorize it to provide monetary grants for mental health first-aid training for first responders and others pressed into service responding to crimes involving gun violence. The proposed law was praised by the mental health community and was co-sponsored by Republican Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Marco Rubio of Florida along with six Democratic Senators.
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