I would like to understand better than I do what the obstacles are to securing legislation for adequate gun control in the United States, and what the feasible pathways towards it are - because, like others, I have been horrified by this latest massacre in Newtown and share the widespread feeling that something must be done to change things. But I am conscious also that a sense of shock and dismay always dissipates over time, however great the tragedy which has caused it, and the feeling that something must be done, though it's an important ingredient in change for the better, rarely suffices by itself to produce it. We need also to know both the possibilities and the resistances, in order to be able to use the former and know how to overcome the latter. This post will provide no answers; I don't have them. I don't have the knowledge of US law or politics I would need. My intention is to raise some relevant questions, in the hope that by doing so I can induce others to help by providing me with more information and knowledge than I presently have. I'm coming at this more or less off the top of my head and on the basis of a very little bit of (internet) reading.
First, then, I take it simply on the basis of ordinary reasoning that, whatever right the US constitution may confer in the way of 'individual gun ownership', this would not be a right to any sort of weapon whatsoever. The Second 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.
Nothing in the wording entails that the right stipulated must be one for individuals to hold any kind of weapon of their choice, and so I cannot see that the Second Amendment forbids restrictions on the types of guns that may be owned. It is, in that, a right unlike the right to freedom of opinion and more like a right, say, to a job. Freedom of opinion by its nature requires that a person should be able to say pretty much anything (I pass over standard limits concerning incitement); whereas the right to a job wouldn't mean anyone had the right to any job they might choose. So my provisional conclusion is that the Second Amendment doesn't rule out every kind of gun control (and nor has it in the past).
On the other hand, the purpose stated in introducing the right - 'A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State...' - might be thought to limit the forms of gun control that could, constitutionally, be set in place. If the intention behind the Second Amendment was to secure the basis for a well regulated militia, could it not be argued by opponents of gun control that restricting private gun ownership to, say, licensed arms for the purposes of hunting or to small handguns, and prohibiting ownership by individuals of automatic weapons and such, would contradict the primary aim of the Second Amendment; it would contradict it because under modern conditions a militia with only handguns or hunting rifles would not be equipped to act effectively?
Be this as it may, from what little I have managed to digest about the District of Columbia v. Heller case, in 2008 the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to own firearms even without reference to the need for a militia, but that this isn't a right to hold any kind of weapon at all. There were, however, dissenting opinions from some of the Court's justices, indicating that this judgement is not necessarily set in stone.
Whether, therefore, satisfactory gun control laws could be achieved without either this ruling of the Supreme Court being reversed or an amendment to the Constitution I am unsure. Even widespread private ownership of handguns is too much weaponry. Reversing the Supreme Court judgement could take some time. The difficulties with changing the US Constitution are registered in a Times leader today (£):
It is not likely... that the Second Amendment of the American Constitution, which ostensibly protects the right to bear arms, will be repealed. A change to the constitution would require two-thirds majorities in both houses of Congress and ratification by three quarters of the state assemblies. All states have two senators, even those such as Nevada and Wyoming, which are predominantly rural, sparsely populated and fond of guns, which makes a supermajority in the Senate for gun control all but inconceivable. It does not help that 27 state assemblies are controlled by Republicans compared with 17 controlled by Democrats.
I would welcome informational and clarifying feedback on this.