Gun control’s success in the courts has come, in part, from the long history and tradition of firearms regulation. While gun control is often thought to be a 20th-century invention, Americans have regulated guns since our earliest days. The founding fathers, for instance, had strict laws that today’s National Rifle Association would never accept. James Madison, the author of the Second Amendment, and his generation restricted the possession of guns by political dissenters and racial minorities.
Through militia laws they also required people to appear at musters where their guns would be inspected by government officials and registered on public rolls. The founders even had their own version of Obamacare’s individual mandate: In 1792, Congress passed a law requiring nearly all free men to outfit themselves with a military-style firearm and appropriate ammunition. To the founders, the Second Amendment was not a libertarian license for anyone to have any gun, anywhere he wanted. Instead, the founders balanced gun rights with the regulation they thought necessary for the public welfare.
Gun control has been a prominent feature of our legal landscape ever since — from the Wild West, where frontier towns such as Tombstone and Dodge City had the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, to the New Deal, when Franklin Roosevelt pushed to limit access to machine guns and other weapons popular among Prohibition-era gangsters.