Gun control encompasses the range of government regulation on private ownership of firearms. It may be part of broader regulation of potential weapons (e.g., edged weapons or knives) or dangerous and destructive substances (e.g., explosives, poisons). Distinctions are also made among guns clearly intended for sporting versus those for military use, and "long guns" (e.g., rifles and shotguns) vs. concealable handguns. Some terminology used in the debate has become emotional; an assault rifle, for example, actually fires a less powerful bullet than many hunting rifles, although it does have design features that may make it more effective in specific situations.
Among the main arguments for "gun control" are concerns that the frequency of gun crimes and accidents is proportional to the number (or percentage) of guns owned, possessed or carried by private citizens. Having a gun handy makes it likely that it will be used to escalate a domestic dispute, for example.
Arguments on the other side include the claim that citizens who are issued concealed weapons permits are substantially less likely than the average person to use a gun to commit a crime. Merely showing a gun to an assailant or thief is enough to run him off. Similarly, the thought that a gun owner might be in a targeted residence has been known to put some convicted criminals off entering homes while the owners are on the property. The National Rifle Association is a powerful interest group, whose magazine, the American Rifleman, has a monthly column called the "Armed Citizen", giving examples of how private citizens stopped crime.
The gun control issue, as discussed in the United States, is a dispute between those who say that private citizens should have and use fewer guns and those who promote increases in private gun ownership and use. Often the term gun control is used for the "fewer guns" positions in the controversy, as in, "I'm in favor of gun control."
Central to the legal arguments is the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
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
There has been much legal argument about the exact meaning of the words of the Second Amendment.
Even setting aside the issue of the militia clause, it is not always obvious to non-Americans that guns were, at the time of the framing of the Constitution, routine tools in a frontier society. Associated traditions will influence the discussion even in an industrialized society.
- The Constitution of the United States of America: Second Amendment--Bearing Arms, Government Printing Office