Christmas came early for law-abiding gun owners. Last Tuesday, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Illinois’ ban on carrying concealed weapons, the last remaining such ban in the country. The landmark decision gave state lawmakers six months to come up with a version of the law that legalizes concealed carry.
In contrast, one thousand miles from the Illinois state capitol, in a rare Sunday night address from Newtown, Connecticut, which preempted even the usually sacrosanct NFL, Barack Obama telegraphed — without clearly saying so — that he will create political opportunity out of tragedy by pushing for more anti-gun measures. His effort is aimed at preventing more tragedies like the one which took 26 lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Included among the dead were 20 young children.
The Seventh Circuit decision in Michael Moore, et al. v. Lisa Madigan, authored by Justice Richard Posner just three days before the Newtown tragedy, stated:
[Illinois] had to provide us with more than merely a rational basis for believing that its uniquely sweeping ban is justified by an increase in public safety. It has failed to meet this burden.
Before the ink was even dry on this decision, however, federal agents were searching dozens of gun stores and shooting ranges in Connecticut to determine why the mother of the Newtown shooter owned and provided access to weapons at her home, including a Bushmaster .223 rifle and two handguns. The killer murdered Nancy Lanza at home before turning his sights on the children at Sandy Hook.
In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy and the actions of a man representing evil incarnate, we are at risk of once again restricting the liberties of law-abiding citizens in the usual political rush to do “something” to prevent events that simply cannot be prevented by merely restricting gun ownership.
Connecticut already has some of the toughest restrictions on gun ownership in the country. In 2011, Connecticut was ranked the fifth-toughest state by the pro-gun control Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Gun-control advocates are pointing to the gun-control experiment in Australia as ammunition for even tougher gun laws here in America. On April 28, 1996, a gunman opened fire on tourists at a seaside Tasmanian resort, killing 35 and injuring 23 more. Twelve days later, led by conservative Prime Minister John Howard, Australia enacted expansive new gun controls which banned semiautomatic rifles and shotguns and included a huge buyback of 640,381 personal firearms owned by law-abiding Australians — about one-fifth of all firearms in the country. The new laws also required that all weapons be individually registered to their owners and — most controversially — that prospective purchasers of guns present a “genuine reason” for needing the gun at the time of purchase. Self-defense was legislated as an insufficient reason.
In light of the July, 2012 Aurora, Colorado theater shootings, John Howard called on America to follow in Australia’s footsteps. Citing a study which showed that homicides by firearm dropped nearly 60% between 1995 and 2006 and suicides dropped 65% as circumstantial evidence of Australia’s success, Howard said:
There are many American traits which we Australians could well emulate to our great benefit, but when it comes to guns, we have been right to take a radically different path.
Law-abiding gun owners beg to differ and warn about repeating the Australia experiment here in America. When one punishes law-abiding citizens for the sins of criminals, it makes life easier for the criminals. America is quick to report on shootouts across the U.S. but unwilling to report on thousands of Americans who were saved by pointing their easy-to-access guns at would-be thieves, murderers, and rapists.
Barack Obama softened his gun-control stance during the 2012 presidential campaign, and took no action during his first term to push for such laws:
I believe in people’s lawful right to bear arms. There are some commonsense gun safety laws that I believe in. But I am not going to take your guns away.
In the wake of the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 others in Tucson, he called for “sound and effective steps” to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, including strengthening background checks on gun buyers. As usual, however, just as in Sunday night’s address, he was short on specifics and never followed through. With no re-election effort to get in his way, he won’t make the same mistake twice.
The Second Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, and 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.
Not exactly a model of clarity and good draftsmanship, the Second Amendment has given rise to heated debate regarding the ownership and use of firearms in America. First, there is a dispute regarding whether the Amendment limits federal action only, or also state gun laws. More importantly, gun-rights advocates believe it protects the right of an individual to possess firearms, whereas the gun-control crowd maintains that the founding fathers merely meant to protect the collective right of a militia to arm itself. They claim that the “well-regulated militia” clause necessarily adds meaning to the “keep and bear arms” clause by furnishing the reason for the latter’s existence.
In the 2010 Supreme Court decision District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court held that the Second Amendment provides Americans a fundamental personal — as opposed to a “collective” — right to bear arms that cannot be violated by state and local governments. The case was about a handgun that Dick Heller wanted to keep in his home in Washington, D.C. He tried to register it with the city, but was turned down. In spite of a longstanding law which bans all handguns in the city, Washington, D.C. has been labeled as the “murder capital of the United States” due to an endless string of handgun murders. Heller lives in a high crime area, and argued that he had a Second Amendment right to have a gun in his home for self-defense. The Supreme Court agreed.
But make no mistake about it. American political winds shift as quickly as the news events which shape them. No legislation can ease the unimaginable pain the parents and families of the victims at Sandy Hook School are suffering. Yet, this tragedy has already become the catalyst for bold new “progressive” gun-control initiatives. Severely restricted firearm sales, stringent guidelines for their purchase, and mandatory buybacks of guns are all certain to be proposed in the wake of the events in Newtown. And with four more years of Obama to look forward to, all it takes is one Supreme Court appointment and the Second Amendment’s guarantee of a personal right to bear arms for self-defense could become an exhibit in a gun-rights museum.
(Also read: NRA Criticizes Gun-Free School Laws.)