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Overview: America's Gun and Violence Crisis; And: How the 2nd Amendment Got Hijacked by the NRA and Antonin Scalia

Don Hazen introduces our ongoing series on gun violence and the NRA; Steven Rosenfeld exposes the commandeering of the Second Amendment.

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One century later in 2008, a U.S. Supreme Court majority led by Justice Scalia threw out the District of Columbia’s handgun ban. In December 2012, the same Judge Posner who slammed Scalia’s ruling as “faux originalism” cited that case in his appeals court ruling striking down Illinois’ ban on carrying a loaded gun in public. He said he had no choice but to follow the Supreme Court’s new precedent. While Posner’s ruling conflicts with other circuits and may bring the issue back before the high Court, the larger reality is America’s gun laws have been unwinding for decades.

Before 1980, only five states allowed gun owners to carry concealed weapons in public, the New Yorker’s Jill Lepore reported in a detailed piece last April. By 2012, 44 states had passed some version of laws allowing the concealed weapons. The state of Florida passed a vigilante “Stand Your Ground” law in 2005—leading to the death of Trayvon Martin in February 2012—followed by passage of similar laws in 24 other states. And today, approximately 40 percent of guns are bought at 5,000 gunshows held annually, a loophole created in a 1986 federal law that evades licensing and training requirments.

The federal deregulation of guns started in the 1980s when Congress began passing laws during the Reagan administration that limited federal oversight and research and created the loopholes seen today. While the Clinton administration tried to reinstate controls in the mid-1990s—following some of the remedies made by Warren Burger such as expanded background checks and waiting periods for buyers—the past three decades have seen an almost unbroken record of political victories for pro-gun forces.

But those victories are a dramatic turn from the preceding 200 years of American history when gun rights were balanced by gun controls—first at the state and then federal level. The most horrific shootings in recent years—massacres at public schools, movie theaters and congressional forums—suggest the nation is not poised to enact a new generation of gun controls, but to return to the historic norm before the modern libertarian-run NRA and a radical Supreme Court majority pushed America to right-wing fringes.

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of AlterNet reports on the nation's emerging gun-control debate. The sources include several books, notably Gunfight: The Battle Over The Right To Bear Arms in America, by Adam Winkler (2011), Gun Show Nation: Gun Culture And American Democracy, by Joan Burbick (2006) and Lawyers, Guns and Money: One Man's Battle With The Gun Industry, by Carol Vinzant (2005). Other sources include reporting by the New Yorker 's Jill LePore and Jeffrey Toobin, the New York Review of Books ' Garry Wills, and U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including Justice Stephen Breyer's dissent in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), as well as a piece by retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger in Parademagazine.

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).

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