There is a case working its way to the Supreme Court that might settle one of the biggest unanswered questions in constitutional law: Does the Second Amendment guarantee an individual right to own a gun? Whether or not you own a gun, this is a case you should care about.
I’m not just saying that because I’m the immediate past president of the National Rifle Association. (Last month I completed my two-year term as president and nine years as an officer of the NRA.) I’m also saying it as an attorney who’s been arguing cases in federal court for more than 30 years, and who understands how a clear precedent on a constitutional question can determine the outcome of a case.
There is a case moving towards the High Court that will likely give us such a precedent on your right to own a gun – a precedent that is either good or bad, depending on your point of view. That case is Parker v. District of Columbia.
I often get asked why there is such a passionate debate on whether the right to own a firearm is a civil right. Everyone agrees that the Constitution speaks about firearms. The Second Amendment speaks of, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
The disagreement is over what those words mean. Most people believe what is called the individual rights view of the Second Amendment, meaning that all law-abiding, peaceable citizens have the individual right to own firearms. The opposing interpretation is called the collective rights view, meaning that the Second Amendment is only a right of state governments to arm their National Guard units.
Polls show that more than 70% of Americans (correctly) believe that they have a civil right under the Constitution to own a gun. But in America we don’t decide constitutional controversies by taking a poll.
Only federal courts—and ultimately the Supreme Court—have the power to interpret the Constitution in a binding way. The Supreme Court has never spoken definitively on the scope or meaning of the Second Amendment. And the Court’s silence has allowed cities and states to enact broad, sweeping laws hostile to gun ownership.
The worst of these laws is the District of Columbia gun ban. If you live in our nation’s capital, you cannot have a handgun or a readily-usable rifle or shotgun in your own home for self-defense. No ifs, ands or buts. It is a near-blanket prohibition on firearms and self-defense.
Sandy Froman is the immediate past president of the National Rifle Association of America, only the second woman and the first Jewish American to hold that office in the 136-year history of the NRA. The views expressed are her own and not that of any organization.
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