Guns 'R U.S.
Controversy lies in our contemporary interpretation of the Second Amendment, specifically the enacting clause: "A well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state..." Late 18th Century and early 19th Century America was characterized by the lack of a standing army, whose function was instead assumed by state militias composed of citizens who gathered their arms and assumed the call of duty to defend the nation at home and abroad when called upon.
Fast forward to the present-day United States where there now exists a multi-million member voluntary military flanked by state national guards, state, county, and local police officers and sheriffs, even a legion of private security guards. While most of the latter group are not armed, the level of fortified defense in this country would without doubt shock the Founders.
Some argue that our armed military men and women, when coupled with the multi-level police force, constitute a modern state militia, meaning civilians are without a constitutional right to own a firearm. The Ashcroft Justice Department, however, went so far as to negate the legitimacy of the Second Amendment's enacting clause, relying solely on "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
The reality on the ground lies between these two absolutist positions. Although the Second Amendment has never been officially incorporated to apply to state and local statutes and ordinances, most states, Illinois included, have affirmed the right to keep and bear arms. Moreover, reasonable (by my estimation) gun control measures have generally withstood constitutional scrutiny like mandatory background checks and waiting periods, limitations on automatic and semi-automatic gun ownership, even local bans on gun possession (see Chicago). A local ban in the District of Columbia, however, was just struck down on Second Amendment grounds with an appeal looming.
An interesting sidebar to these debates is another goal arguably pursued by the Founders through the Second Amendment. How would citizens themselves overthrow a government they deemed corrupt if all weaponry lay in the hands of the state? The argument follows that ordinary citizens must possess firearms not only to defend the nation from threats both within and without, but also from the body itself.
Back to the all or nothing debate. Those who would curtail private gun ownership are confronted by gun rights advocates with the argument that criminalizing gun ownership would leave them in the hands of social miscreants. Gun control advocates respond by suggesting that guns kill people, escalating physical arguments into violent affairs, often inflicting mortal wounds on the heels of a heat of the moment argument. Gun rights supporters ask for the enforcement of existing laws, coupling this with the alleged deterrent effect of an armed populace.
What we are left with is a culture of gun ownership, use (mostly for recreational purposes), and yes, violence, arguably protected by the United States Constitution. State and local initiatives seek to moderate the excesses propagated by pendulum swings in either direction as our Wild West reputation circles the globe. We need look no further than our historic battle with the Lobsterbacks to pinpoint the roots of our gun culture. Teaching an old dog to do new tricks will thus prove difficult.