I’m Not So Sure The Court Will Expand 2nd-Amendment ‘Rights.’

              Why do I get the feeling that some of my gun violence prevention (GVP) advocacy friends can’t wait for the Supreme Court to expand 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ beyond the boundaries set by the Heller decision in 2008? You may recall that Scalia’s opinion in that case ratified the idea that Americans who wanted to keep a handgun in their home would now be exercising a Constitutional ‘right.’ Period. Did this decision create Constitutional protection for walking around the neighborhood with a concealed gun? No. Did it create Constitutional protection for walking around the neighborhood with an openly-carried gun? No. Did it prevent localities from making all kinds of rules and regulations that had to be met before you could keep a handgun in your home? No. The decision simply said that as long as sooner or later you could be given permission to keep a handgun in your home, you were not being deprived of your 2nd-Amendment ‘right’ to ‘keep and bear arms.’

              The case which has the GVP advocacy folks worked up into a tizzy doesn’t actually question the constitutionality of New York City’s onerous gun-licensing process at all; a process known as the Sullivan Law which has been in effect since 1912 and is, simply put, the most restrictive licensing system ever devised anywhere on the planet. The case in question deals only with a regulation which is not, in fact, part of the licensing process itself, but only comes into effect after a gun owner spends a lot of money and a lot of time getting licensed to own a gun. The regulation in question forbids any resident of New York City to carry his licensed gun outside the five counties which comprise the city’s geographic limits. If, for example, you want to take your licensed gun to any location outie the city, the moment you drive from da city into Joisey or Rockland or some other place, you’re violating the NYC licensing law.

              The case in question basically argues that by requiring a city resident to keep his licensed gun within the city limits is to deprive that resident of his 2nd-Amendment ‘right’ to keep a gun in his home if he happens to have another home. And what is now going on within the GVP world is the great fear that if this regulation is struck down, it opens the way for all those crazy gun owners to go anywhere and everywhere they want with their guns.

              Which happens not to be true. What?  Hey Mike, are you saying that maybe, just maybe the GVP noise machine is making a big deal out of something that may turn out to mean little, if anything at all? That’s exactly what I am saying, and here’s the reason why.

              Let’s say I have an apartment in Manhattan and a house out at the beach, maybe in one of the Hampton high-crime towns like Southampton or Quogue. The moment I drive my car out of the city and cross the border between Queens and Nassau Counties, I’m actually not just violating one law, I’m, violating two. Because I can’t have a gun in my beach house without getting a gun license from the Suffolk County where the beach house is located, unless the address of my other home is in a jurisdiction which has no gun licensing at all.

              Could the Court rule that no jurisdiction has the authority to determine whether guns represent a threat to public safety and therefore strike down every gun-licensing law in every state? They can rule whatever they want to rule, but on this one I wouldn’t take the short odds. The whole point of the Heller decision was to protect private ownership of handguns but also to protect the government’s authority to uphold the ‘compelling interest’ of keeping communities safe. And even a court with a nut-job like Clarence Thomas wouldn’t uphold the notion that when it comes to public safety, armed citizens should be our first line of defense.

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Heller Versus District Of Columbia II: The NRA Loses A Big One

Ever since the Supreme Court decided in 2008 that the 2nd Amendment gave law-abiding Americans the right to keep a gun in the home for self-defense , the NRA had been racking up a very impressive series of legal wins in various courtrooms around the country, most recently a decision in California that struck down San Diego’s concealed-carry law as being an infringement of 2nd-Amendment rights.  But the music stopped playing last week when the Federal District Court in Washington D.C. upheld the city’s gun registration procedure which had been challenged by the self-same Dick Heller whose lawsuit became the basis for the historic 2nd Amendment decision in 2008.

Dick Heller

Dick Heller

Anyone who wants to own a gun in DC has to go through a pretty lengthy and cumbersome process, including a detailed background check, followed by a safety and proficiency course, and then is required to submit the actual gun to the police department for inspection and registration, the permit for which must then be renewed every three years.  Gun purchases are also rationed, i.e., nobody is permitted to purchase more than one handgun every thirty days.  There is no other political jurisdiction in the entire United States, including New York City with its infamous Sullivan Law, that mandates such a comprehensive registration procedure for all firearms, and it was the requirement that long guns be subject to background checks and inspections that, among other procedures, was challenged by Heller in his new lawsuit.

The District Court’s opinion runs more than 60 pages, based largely on testimony by, among others, the DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier, former ATF agents Mark Jones and Joseph Vince, and Dan Webster, who heads the Bloomberg Center for Gun Policy at Johns Hopkins University.  The plaintiffs produced testimony from Professor Gary Kleck, a long-time academic supporter of the NRA.  I don’t have space to go over every point that was argued in detail, but there was one basic issue that stood out and, not surprisingly, was omitted from a summary of the case posted by the NRA.

The NRA and other pro-gun organizations have consistently argued against any expansion of gun control measures because, according to them, such procedures make it more burdensome for law-abiding citizens to own guns while, on the other hand, criminals will always find a way to get around the law.  To quote the Plaintiffs: “Criminals circumvent the process by purchasing guns on the street and bypassing registration altogether.”  To which the District Court rejoined: “According to the Plaintiffs, municipalities should be limited to enacting only those firearms regulations that lawbreakers will obey – a curious argument that would render practically any guns laws unconstitutional.”

You got that one right, baby.  That’s what it’s all about.  The truth is that pro-gun activists don’t want any laws or regulations on firearms, regardless of the intent of the law.  On the other hand, it has to be said that most people who want more gun control would just as well see the 2nd Amendment go fly a kite.  As future gun litigation rumbles through the legal system, I hope that  jurists will be as candid and forthright as was Judge James Boasberg in speaking for the D.C. District Court, because in a debate that has been too clouded with overheated rhetoric and unsupported facts, it’s refreshing to read a legal opinion which clearly points out the basic issue separating the two sides.