Encyclopedia of Gun Control and Gun Rights

Encyclopedia of Gun Control and Gun Rights

Title: Encyclopedia of Gun Control and Gun Rights
Author: Glenn H. Utter.
Publication Date: November 8, 1999 (1st. Edition), 2011 (2nd. edition)
ISBN-10: 157356172X
ISBN-13: 978-1573561723
Pages: 384
Publisher: Greenwood and Grey House Publishing
Copyright: 1999 and 2011
Language: English

Preface to the Book

Gun control is a fascinating public policy area that creates extremely emotional reactions
among both those who advocate greater regulation of firearms and those who oppose further
restrictions on ownership and call for the elimination of many existing limitations. The issues
raised in the debate deal with fundamental questions of constitutional law and the rights of individuals, opportunities for self-protection, the control of violence, and national security. A long-time gun collector informed one of the authors of an additional factor making this area especially intriguing.

Whenever he displays his gun collection, he can be assured of an attentive audience. Firearms are inherently interesting. Thousands of firearms fans flood gun shows, admiring the craftsmanship of the many guns on display and the technological expertise that went into producing them.

Both sides of the gun control debate have their heroes and villains. Many gun rights advocates are convinced that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is a power-hungry group of government officials’ intent on limiting the liberties of law-abiding citizens and believe that the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun rights organizations are champions of individual liberty. Gun control supporters often see gun manufacturers as profit-hungry exploiters of Americans’ fascination with firearms and fear of crime who take advantage of a too ready willingness to settle disputes violently. They perceive the NRA as a politically ruthless organization, but view the ATF as a well-intentioned if ineffectual government agency. This book is an attempt to present varying views on gun rights and gun control, treating all sides of the gun control question as fairly and accurately as possible.

Gun-related Web sites have proliferated in recent years, contributing greatly to the resources
available on firearms and gun control. These Web sites have been an extremely valuable source of information in preparing this book. In addition, we consulted a large number of books, periodicals, and organization literature, as well as the personally expressed views of people on both sides of the gun control and gun rights issue.

Included among the entries are various organizations that have taken stands on gun control, many of which are concerned primarily with firearms issues. Many organizations which are on the same side of the gun control question do not necessarily hold the same views on the issue. Profiles of many individuals, both inside and outside government, who have promoted or opposed gun control, have been included, as well as those who have conducted research in the area. We discuss various laws dealing in some way with gun policy and describe many judicial decisions, at both the national and state levels, that provide insight into the legal status as well as the cultural ramifications of guns in the United States. We discuss various events, such as the 1999 Littleton, Colorado, school shooting, the 2007 Virginia Tech University shooting, and the 2011 Tucson shooting. Such events take on special importance because gun control proponents frequently have mounted campaigns for further firearms legislation closely following their occurrence. At the same time, gun rights advocates have vigorously defended firearms ownership, arguing that other factors besides the presence of firearms…


Perhaps with the exception of abortion, gun control is the most controversial issue in American
politics, appealing strongly to the emotions of those who support, as well as those who oppose,
further regulation of fi rearms. Although people take many different positions on the issue,
supporting some proposals for control and rejecting others, the more uncompromising on both sides tend to collapse pro- and anti-gun control categories into two. The pro-gun forces see themselves as the supporters of a vital constitutional right to keep and bear arms pitted against the “gun grabbers.”

Strong advocates of gun control see themselves struggling for a more civilized society against the “gun nuts” and profit-hungry firearms manufacturers and dealers. Like many other subjects, the issue of gun control is preeminently a political question in that the competitors attempting to influence public policy have an intense interest in the ultimate outcome. Therefore, positions tend to harden and proponents of one position tend to deny any merit in the stand taken by others, each side attributing dishonest motives to those with whom they disagree. Scholars who otherwise are meticulous in presenting research results can become as impassioned in their argumentation as the most openly partisan supporter of a fervently held political position.

Supporters and opponents of gun control disagree over the significance of firearms as an
independent variable in explaining the high level of violence in the United States. The term “gun culture” is used by both sides in explaining their respective views of the special role firearms have played in American history and continue to play in contemporary society. Gun rights advocates point with pride to the role that average Americans played in the Revolutionary War, especially because of the skill they reportedly demonstrated with firearms against an intimidated British force. Firearms are seen as an important ingredient in the unique ability of Americans to maintain their independence from a potentially oppressive government.

Those less impressed with the gun tradition see that the American love affair with firearms has contributed to a violent past and a continuing belief that the presence and use of firearms promise to cut cleanly through a quagmire of social problems. While not denying this predilection for violence, gun supporters note that other cultures not having as extensive a
supply of firearms also experience high levels of violence, that some societies with high concentrations of firearms have much lower levels of violence, and that the level of violent crime in the United States did not increase proportionately with a marked increase in the number of firearms available. Gun rights advocates express their position with the popular saying, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and claim that those advocating limitations on firearms suffer from hoplophobia, which is defined as an irrational and morbid fear of guns. However, Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins have argued that firearms have had an independent influence on violence in the United States in that the number of violent crimes that lead to serious injury and death are significantly higher in the United States than in other countries. Table 1 indicates that the homicide rate is much higher in the United States, where
firearms are easily obtainable, than in England and Wales, where firearms are far less available to the general public.

Encyclopedia of Gun Control and Gun Rights Reviews

Few issues arouse such passion, such fervor, and such idiotic failures of logic and intellectual consistency as the debate over gun regulation. Sometimes it seems as though the participants are discussing different subjects; witness the diversity of readings of the Second Amendment’s single sentence. If nothing else, a glossary of terms would prove very helpful. Professor Glenn H. Utter of Lamar University’s Political Science Department has provided such a judicious and useful guide to the current controversy.

Professor Utter does an excellent job getting at the specifics of the debate over gun regulation, providing information on the key issues, players, and organizations, as well as several recent high-profile shootings. The reader who spends time with this volume will be rewarded with a wealth of information. For instance, for some twenty years I have been hearing that there are 20,000 gun laws in America. There may be, though I have never seen the evidence for this statement. Utter offers a table tracing the development of federal gun laws in the United States. By the end of 1995 a total of 231 sections had been added to the federal statute law concerning guns, 56.3 percent of these during the period 1930 to 1970. (Perhaps someone can provide a citation for the remaining 19,769 state laws.) It is worth knowing that the domestic production of firearms in the US in the twentieth century exceeded 210,000,000, that more than two million guns a year were imported in the mid-1990s, and that there are 838,286 firearms registered under the National Firearms Act (military and “gangster”-type weapons like machine guns and sawed-off shotguns). Utter does an admirable job chronicling a marvelous array of advocacy groups, such as Arming Women Against Rape and Endangerment, Firearms Owners Against Crime, Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, and my personal favorite, Academics for the Second Amendment. He also provides the web sites for most of these organizations — a very practical feature.

In addition, Professor Utter presents clear summaries of competing research on the impact of gun use. However, he fails to note the successful efforts of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its adherents to silence research with which they disagree. Thus there is no reference to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and their initial findings on the impact of gun violence as a public health issue, nor to the 1996 Congressional ban on any further gun-related research by the CDC. Likewise the Washington state legislature was so concerned over the statistical evidence that gun ownership increased the likelihood of being shot that it placed its police files off-limits to epidemiologists. These are facts of some significance when weighing the nature of the often bitter argument over the meaning of current research.

Professor Utter delivers on his promise to present “both sides of the gun control debate” (p. vii). But many readers may share my view that there are more than two sides in this debate. And Professor Utter does note in passing that “[a]lthough many organizations are on the same side of the gun control question, they do not necessarily hold the same views on the issue” (p. vii). This is not a minor linguistic point. Advocacy groups strive to create the impression that gun regulation is an either/or situation. But it is not now, and never has been the case that the United States either has no regulation or it outlaws all firearms. Regulatory legislation in America begins with the first European settlements and continues through to this day, and yet there appears to be no shortage of firearms. Any hunter can tell you that state and federal regulation of that sport has long been in place and is probably better than unregulated, year-round hunting. One such unrestricted season would sweep many areas of all game.

Another problem with the polarized vision of the gun debate is that it implies that there is little room for discussion or compromise. But American politics rarely works that way in reality. Where, after all, do we put the large number of political and civic leaders who strive for various kinds of legislation which will more precisely regulate firearms’ production and ownership in the United States without interfering with an individualís right to own guns? Consider the growing number of Republican governors and mayors who have stood up to the NRA in the past year and called for what they see as “reasonable regulation.” It is also evident, as recent events indicate, that the NRA has an astounding ability to alienate friends and opponents alike. If we reduce the debate to just two sides, where do we put the senior George Bush? During the 1988 election, Bush, a life member of the NRA, pulled out a plastic gun that could pass through metal detectors and demanded legislation forbidding its sale in the United States. The NRA named him “Person of the Year” anyway and donated $1.5-million to his campaign. The very next year Bush came out in favor of the assault weapons ban, which cost him NRA support in the 1992 election. In 1995, Bush resigned from the NRA for Wayne La Pierre’s characterization of federal agents as “jack-booted thugs” who behaved like Nazis. Bush courageously spoke out against this “vicious slander on good people” in his letter of resignation. Is he therefore “anti-gun”?

Professor Utter refers to many of these events but leaves it to the reader to draw any conclusions. This objectivity is of course the correct standard for an encyclopedia, but it does not preclude historical analysis. What meaning should we attach to these matters? Is there not here evidence of a hardening of attitudes on the part of the NRA and a refusal to consider alternative opinions, even from within their own organization? The encyclopedic style obscures a number of important points. In this instance, Utter’s failure to mention that the NRA attempted to expel Bush in 1989 draws attention away from what Robert Spitzer calls the NRA’s “politics of purity.”[1] It is highly significant that the NRA would be willing to throw a sitting President out of their organization rather than admit that a gun rights advocate may think it rational to hinder access to automatic weapons.

Sometimes Professor Utter is just a little too terse. For instance, he notes that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) “escaped President Ronald Reagan’s attempt to disband it” (p. 46), but fails to mention that this escape was the result of a sudden about-face by the NRA. The NRA had called for the termination of the BATF for years, but when Reagan recommended bringing its duties under the purview of the Secret Service, the NRA reversed direction and condemned the plan. As Robert Spitzer has written, “Instead of keeping gun control in the hands of a beleaguered, low-prestige agency, the new proposal would lodge this authority in the hands of the highly respected, efficient, and fully computerized Secret Service.”[2] The NRA had to ask what would happen if such an agency gained responsibility for enforcing federal gun regulations. They did not like the answer. Representative John Dingell (D., Michigan, the NRA’s point-man in the House who oddly does not appear in this encyclopedia), went from calling BATF agents “evil” and deserving of jail terms, to fighting to save the agency. It was quite a show, worthy of attention.

On a few occasions, Professor Utter gives keen insight to the reality of gun legislation in America. His discussion of the Undetectable Firearms Act is particularly interesting. This 1988 act began as a response to then-Vice President Bush’s call for the outlawing of plastic guns. Senator James McClure (R., Idaho) quickly hijacked the bill, amending it to allow for the production of guns that were mostly plastic — so long as a little metal was included. Faced with the opposition of every major police organization in the country, the Reagan administration worked out a “compromise” that set a minimum level of 3.7 ounces of metal in every gun. Utter writes that “when the NRA was assured that no existing gun would be banned under this standard, the organization dropped its opposition to the measure” (p. 305) — in short, a gun law that changed nothing. Those interested in the Byzantine workings of Congress when faced with gun laws would be well advised to read Lord Windlesham’s Politics, Punishment, and Populism. [3]

Every entry in this volume is framed within the contemporary debate. This is, of course, the author’s intention, so it would be unfair of me to fault Professor Utter for this approach. However, for an historian, it is vital to treat a subject within its precise context. Doing so allows us to get beyond the images to the underlying historical realities. Examining the way that the Second Amendment is used in current debates is valuable, but so is a careful study of the exact conditions of its proposal and ratification. Similarly, attitudes toward an issue today tells us a great deal about an organization, but it would be interesting to examine the changing attitude toward firearms legislation of gun organizations over time; the NRA, for instance, has not always opposed regulation.

Mind you, there are those who hold that historical research is irrelevant. Post-modernists like Akhil Amar, Charlton Heston, and William Van Alstyne have stated that the historical context of the Second Amendment is irrelevant to constitutional law, and that the image of the past is far more important than the reality when it comes to gun ownership [4]. But given the way that an imagined past drives so much of the debate over gun regulation, it is important to get it right. Thus Professor Utter notes that “[g]un rights advocates point with pride to the role that average Americans played in the Revolutionary War, especially because of the skill they demonstrated with firearms against an intimidated British force” (p. ix). An historian would like to know what the evidence is for this assertion, which any military historian would find laughable. One can say that America was a land of rugged marksmen who rushed into the service of their country, but finding evidence for the statement may prove difficult. Certainly George Washington and every other military leader during the Revolution had rather different experiences. Currently, those who oppose the registration of firearms find an insurrectionary heritage in the American Revolution — no guns, no freedom. Yet 85 percent of the guns used by the Americans came from France and the Netherlands, a standing army won the war, and, as Utter cleverly observes, guns did not help the Loyalists in resisting the tyranny of the state governments.

Again, I mean no criticism of this work for not being more historical. It accomplishes its stated purpose with great efficiency. Still, most readers would probably like to see a little more engagement with the subject, the asking of hard questions, and the comparison of research. How would Arthur Kellermann recommend individuals protect themselves? Does Handgun Control, Inc., really trust the government to implement a fair national registration system? How would gun control advocates respond to recent police shootings of unarmed civilians? If Gary Kleck is right and “firearms ownership can reduce violent crime” (p. 161), then why isn’t the crime rate lower now than it was in the 1950s? What explains the failure of more guns to translate into fewer crimes? Answers to these and similar questions must be attained through further reading. I recommend Robert Spitzer’s outstanding Politics of Gun Control as a good starting place. Another helpful source is the glossary at <www.jhsph.edu/gunpolicy>.

Finally, any encyclopedia is going to leave out some obvious subjects. For instance, there is no entry on the self-proclaimed “Standard Model” (of the Second Amendment’s original meaning) and its critics. Professor Utter includes several biographies of key figures in the development of modern firearms technology, such as Samuel Colt and John M. Browning. I was a little disappointed, though, that there is no entry for David Marhsall Williams, inventor of the M-1 and one of the most fascinating figures in modern arms production. (Some of you may recall “Carbine Williams,” with Jimmy Stewart playing the lead role.) But then the mark of a good book is often the great number of questions it raises.

This book ends with an appendix containing all current state constitutional gun rights provisions and a large chart on current statutory and constitutional provisions relating to firearms. This chart raises one interesting question that I could not find addressed in the book and still baffles me. The majority of states allow for the carrying of concealed weapons even while prohibiting the carrying of guns openly. Why is that? Perhaps it is just one of many legal anomalies resulting from America’s gun culture.

Michael Bellesiles. Review of Utter, Glenn H., Encyclopedia of Gun Control and Gun Rights. H-Law, H-Net Reviews. March, 2000. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=3958

Library Journal Review

Utter (political science, Lamar Univ.; Campaign and Election Reform) has written a comprehensive listing of the court cases, personalities, laws, and groups involved in the regulation of guns. The book begins with an essay on the issues in the gun-control battle and a short guide to the court cases and groups involved, placing them in the opposing camps. The entries, which are balanced and well written, include photographs and charts. Following each listing are titles or cases for further reading. Appendixes include state versions of the Second Amendment, a table of state gun-control rules, and a listing of organizations with interests in gun regulation or rights. Finally, there is a chronology of significant events in firearms history, such as major laws, court cases, and the Littleton, CO, shootings. For those seeking a reference work in the debate on firearms regulation, this book would be a good choice. It does not work as an introduction to the subject, however, because the introductory essay, while excellent, does not provide a historical overview or tie into the entries. For research libraries.
-Harry Charles, Attorney-at-Law, St. Louis
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Book News Review

“Utter provides some 300 entries on US firearm issues, legislation, court cases, and debaters. Included is an introductory essay with statistics on gun production, imports, and growth in federal gun laws, and b&w photos of key gun control advocates and foes. Appends state constitutional gun rights provisions; statuatory and constitutional provisions relating to the purchase, ownership, and use of firearms; a list of relevant organizations; and a chronology spanning the colonial militia to current events.” — Book News, February 2000

Table of Contents

Introductory Essay
Guide to Selected Topics
Encyclopedia of Gun Control and Gun Rights: A to Z Entries
Primary Documents
Appendix 1: State Constitutional Gun Rights Provisions
Appendix 2: Compendium of State Laws Governing Firearms
Appendix 3: List of Organizations


[1]. Spitzer, The Politics of Gun Control (2d ed.; New York: Chatham House, 1998), p. 83.

[2]. Spitzer, The Politics of Gun Control, p. 130.

[3]. Lord Windlesham, Politics, Punishment, and Populism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

[4]. See, for instance, Chris Mooney, “Liberal Scholars are Supporting the Right to Bear Arms,” Lingua Franca [Feb. 2000], pp. 27-34.



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