What’s The Difference Between Roe V. Wade and Heller vs. District of Columbia? Maybe Nothing.

The right to bear arms, as stated in the 2nd Amendment and defined by the SCOTUS in the Heller and McDonald cases, got a boost this week from the most unlikely source; i.e., an abortion-rights case in Alabama where Federal District Court Judge Myron Thompson struck down a 2013 law that would have made it extremely difficult for women to receive abortion services unless they were able to travel long distances from home, thereby creating an undue burden and nullifying the right to an abortion guaranteed by Roe Vs. Wade.

The new law, similar to a measure that was voided in Mississippi, required physicians who performed abortions to be granted credentials in neighboring hospitals, but such credentials are only granted to physicians who live and practice within a limited distance of the particular hospital.  Three of the five abortion clinics in Alabama are currently staffed by physicians who reside in other states and travel to Alabama for the purpose of administering scheduled abortions.  Hence, they could not receive hospital credentials and therefore could not operate their abortion clinics.

  Judge Myron Thompson

Judge Myron Thompson

Judge Thompson heard testimony from numerous witnesses representing both the State of Alabama and the abortion providers, and nearly all of the 172-page decision is a very careful summary of what was said by parties on both sides.  Ultimately the weight of the testimony convinced the jurist that by reducing the number of abortion clinics from five to just two, the State was effectively blocking access to an abortion and therefore could not be reconciled with the rights of women to terminate their pregnancies as stipulated in Roe vs. Wade.

You have to wade through almost the entire decision, however, before you come to the point where women in Alabama seeking an abortion find themselves making common cause with Alabama residents who want to own a gun.  To quote Judge Thompson: “At its core, each protected right is held by the individual: the right to decide to have an abortion and the right to have and use firearms for self-defense.  With this parallelism in mind, the court poses the hypothetical that suppose the government the government were to implement a new restriction on who may sell firearms and ammunition, and further, only two vendors in the State of Alabama were capable of complying with the restriction.  The defenders of this law would be called upon to do a heck of a lot of explaining — and rightly so in the face of an effect so severe.”

Last year Alabama also passed a new gun law that made it easier for residents to receive a concealed-carry license and also allowed for concealed-carry of handguns into certain public events. Alabama has always been a gun-rich state, with per capita gun ownership well above the national norm.  Now I can’t imagine there would ever be as many women in Alabama seeking an abortion as there might be folks looking to buy guns.  But even though Judge Thompson was educated at Yale, he’s Crimson Tide through and through. Abortion might not be a popular issue in an Evangelical state, but when explained as a parallel to the 2nd Amendment, all those God-fearing, Bible-thumpin’ gun owners may just agree that what’s right is a right.

But Thompson’s decision is also a case in point for the folks who want more controls over guns.  Because ultimately in order to make their case for more gun control, people who don’t own guns are going to have to figure out how to talk to people who do.  The last few pages of Judge Taylor’s decision should be required reading for Brady, Everytown and all the rest.  Supporters of the 2nd Amendment and supporters of abortion rights may have more in common than we think.

Advertisements

They Finally Get A Chance To Carry A Concealed Weapon In California. Or Do They?

Back in February, the 9th Circuit in California ruled that the state’s concealed-carry law was unconstitutional, a ruling which was hailed by the NRA and other pro-gun groups as a “major victory” in the campaign to extend the 2nd-Amendment ownership rights defined in the 2008 Heller vs. DC decision to carrying a gun outside the home. But while the judicial panel’s initial decision was stayed pending appeal to the full 9th Circuit (whose action may then result in the SCOTUS finally deciding whether the 2nd Amendment extends to CCW,) the court let stand the part of the law which allows the sheriff in each California county to set concealed-carry rules. Most of California’s counties, including San Diego, which challenged the current law, have decided to wait and see how the whole legal issue plays itself out.  But Orange County began accepting CCW applications immediately after the 9th Circuit ruling and has been, according to County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, “overwhelmed” with the demand.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens

Notwithstanding the fact that crime in Orange County has declined by 20% over the last ten years, it appears that most of the demand for concealed-carry permits is being driven by the conviction that walking around with a gun will make people feel more safe.  At least this is what the Orange County Sheriff says, and she should know since she has hired 15 part-time workers to handle the administrative load and the waiting time for the required interview that must precede issuance of the permit is now out to 30 months.

Wait a minute!  A “required” interview before the license is issued?  I thought that the 9th Circuit’s panel found California’s CCW law unconstitutional because it was only granted if an applicant could convince the police that carrying a concealed weapon was a necessity for business reasons or documented proof of the need for personal defense.  And when Orange County started accepting CCW applications, the Orange County Register stated that a permit would now be issued if a county resident simply stated that they needed to carry a gun for “personal safety,” without requiring any documentation of this claim at all.

So I decided to do what nobody ever seems to take the trouble to do whenever a law is passed regarding guns, namely, I actually read the text that defines the Orange County application process itself.  And the process is as follows.  In addition to the usual background check, fingerprints and let’s not forget the $200 fee, the applicant must also provide “documentation” that “good cause” exists for the license based on the following criteria: (1). “Specific evidence that there has been or is likely to be an attempt on the part of a second party to do great bodily harm to the applicant;” (2). “The nature of the business or occupation of the applicant is such that it is subject to high personal risk and/or criminal attack;” (3). “The occupation or business of the applicant is such that no means of protection, security of risk avoidance can mitigate the risk other than the carrying of a concealed firearm.”

There are a couple of more issuance criteria listed on the sheriff’s website but I think you get the point.  Sheriff Hutchens may say that she’s going to issue a license to everyone who says they want one, but Orange County is not about to deprive their law enforcement authorities from having the last word on who shall and who shall not walk around with a gun.  Which is hardly the same thing as saying that anyone who wants CCW will get it just by showing up at the police department with a clean background and a $200 check.

If the argument over whether the 2nd Amendment covers CCW ever gets to SCOTUS and if gun-nut Scalia writes another decision which cites the new California law as a valid protection of gun-ownership rights, the Brady Campaign and Shannon Watts will be able to arouse their followers over this NRA threat to safety, but the truth is that the law doesn’t really change things at all.  But what laws actually say never seems to concern either side in the gun debate. It’s a lot more fun to yell and scream than to sit down and figure out what, if anything, should really be done.