D.C. Gun Ban Affects Entire U.S.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
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Posted: Feb 15, 2008 11:22 AM
D.C. Gun Ban Affects Entire U.S.

The right to keep and bear arms is secure in Texas, but in our nation's capital it has been taken away.

In 1976, the Washington City Council passed the nation's toughest gun control law, banning handguns completely and requiring rifles and shotguns to be registered, stored unloaded and locked or disassembled.

The D.C. murder rate was declining before this law; in the next 15 years it jumped 200 percent.

Besides being ineffective, the ban was simply incomprehensible. Under D.C. law, business owners have the right to use a firearm to protect their store cash registers, but they cannot use the same firearm to protect themselves and their families in their homes.

Federal law enforcement officers protecting citizens and officials in the district with firearms cannot use similar protection in their homes.

This prohibition has been challenged in court, and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the district's ban was not only unreasonable but unconstitutional.

Next month, for the first time since 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the issue of Second Amendment rights when it hears arguments in District of Columbia v. Heller. The court's decision will have major implications for all Americans.

I have filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court with my colleague Jon Tester from Montana - along with Vice President Dick Cheney as president of the Senate, 53 other U.S. senators and 250 members of the House - for the respondent, who simply wishes to exercise his constitutional right to protect himself. It has the most congressional signatures on any amicus brief to the Supreme Court.

The founding fathers knew what they were doing when they put the right to keep and bear arms in the Constitution. It was not an accident. In 1775, the American Revolution began because ordinary farmers decided to fight back against foreign tyranny. Many, if not most, in George Washington's regiments used their own guns.

The Second Amendment says, "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." It is clear that our founders did not use the term "militia" to suggest that gun rights could be used only in an organized army. But gun control advocates have made this argument for years.

If the framers' purpose had been a collective right, they would have been satisfied with Article I, Section VIII of the Constitution, which gives Congress the power to call forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrection and repel invasions.

Instead, to ensure that gun ownership was recognized as an individual right, they included it in the Bill of Rights, a compilation of such other individual rights as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and a fair trial. The location of these words provides strong evidence for the founders' vision.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground." In debate on the Bill of Rights, James Madison wanted the American people to have the right to be armed in order to prevent the kind of tyranny that dominated the rest of the world, especially Europe.

The Second Amendment ensures that people have the ability to secure our rights and defend them from government suppression, if necessary. It is that right that a government of the people, by the people and for the people must never extinguish.

The U.S. Supreme Court has the perfect case to affirm an individual's Second Amendment right to self-defense. Though gun-control advocates have questioned this through the years, Congress never has.

From the Freedman's Bureau Act of 1865 to the Property Requisition Act of 1941, Congress reaffirmed the solemn position of the U.S. as a defender of one's right to protect his being and his home with an operable firearm. I hope the Supreme Court will affirm the individual right to self-defense with a firearm so that it is clear and unambiguous.

It is an opportunity, perhaps, of a lifetime.