The origins of the problem of illegal firearms in America go back to, first and foremost, the 2nd Amendment. The 2nd Amendment is one of the most contentious amendments in the Constitution, Bill of Rights and all, if for no other reason than all gun control laws must stand opposed to it to some extent.
The text of the 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.” This Amendment was partly an attempt to prevent future treatment, the likes of which the American people had suffered during British rule, as rifles held by Americans were deemed illegal firearms and could be seized at the British troops’ leisure.
The Amendment was, at least in part, an attempt to prevent such blatant violations of freedom in the future. Out of the phrasing of the Amendment, of course, there also came a focus on defending the country, providing for the security of America through the ability to create a militia in times of need.
The 2nd Amendment was debated at the time, and through the ages, but the first time gun control laws were deemed necessary was in 1934, with the National Firearms Act. This law was, in fact, the first that truly made the idea of illegal firearms possible. This was the first of the twentieth century’s gun control laws. It put a $200 tax (which is equivalent to $2,525 today) on every firearm for all gun sales and gun manufacturers.
Furthermore, buyers were required to submit paperwork to the Treasury Department. Obviously, then, with such restrictions on firearms put into effect, it was only a matter of time before individuals sought illegal firearms, which did not need to be obtained via the arduous process set out in the gun control laws.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 is still one of the most prominent gun control laws in America, and it sets out some of the most important federal provisions preventing certain individuals from obtaining firearms legally.
This Act is further supported by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1994, which enforced the same sets of prohibitions. With every one of these attempts to place greater restrictions upon firearms, the problem of illegal firearms grew worse.
The people who were being prohibited from obtaining firearms legally were exactly the people who would have no second thoughts about obtaining illegal firearms. Thus, as restrictions sprang up, attempting to make it harder for firearms to be sold in general, illegal firearms grew in number across the country.
It certainly was not a help in the attempt to eliminate illegal firearms that gun control laws, concerning anything other than certain common-sense prohibitions about those who were able to legally purchase firearms, were in fact state laws, and not federal laws.
This meant that gun control laws were by no means uniform across America, and furthermore, previously legal firearms could become illegal firearms simply by crossing the state boundary, as not all states recognize permits given by other states.
The growth of illegal firearms seems correlated to the rise of gun control laws in America, though there are obviously other factors, such as increased population centers and improving technologies in manufacturing. But the main point remains that the problems of illegal firearms today seem to stem from the gun control laws of yesterday.