In a major setback to anti-gun activists – and a significant advance for Second Amendment advocates – a three-judge panel of the Federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in July that the District’s “good cause” requirement for firearm licensing was unconstitutional. This past week the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the D.C. Government’s appeal of the District Courts’ ruling.
The High Court’s punt should put the issue to bed, for now at least, of whether a citizen has to seek justification from the government to exercise her constitutionally granted rights. In light of the recent tragedy in Las Vegas, Nevada, in which an evil, deranged gunman killed 58 innocent civilians and injured hundreds of others in a barrage of automatic gunfire at an unsuspecting crowd at a country music concert, it would be appropriate to celebrate the court’s upholding of the second amendment, not as a victory for ‘gun rights’ per se - but as a win for freedom.
Much of the ground for advocating Second Amendment freedoms has been covered in the media, but at times like this, when a major tragedy places the second amendment under intense scrutiny, the basic point bears repeating. The Second Amendment to the Constitution is not about granting rights to citizens to carry guns; it is about denying to government the exclusive monopoly on the use of force and ensuring the preservation of our freedom. Though much-debated, the Constitutional text is simple. "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.”
The Constitution explicitly forbids the government from ‘infringing’ upon the rights of ‘the people’ to keep and bear arms. Why would the framers envision such a statement to be necessary, not on the first drafting of the Constitution, but in hindsight? It is precisely because they knew that they had created a powerful new system of Federal government – and they feared that the government could, in theory, be corrupted and turn against the people. They knew this because they had escaped from despotic regimes in Europe, where corrupt kings and monarchs issued edicts that specifically prohibited citizens from bearing arms and thus challenging their tyranny.
Some would argue that the Second Amendment is no longer practical in today’s society, where civil remedies at law are available to citizens who have been abused by the government. Others argue that the harm of allowing firearms in civil society outweighs the good. These arguments are factually and legally indefensible. As a nation of laws, we do not and cannot merely fail to enforce laws that we no longer think are practical. The failure to enforce a law here or there for reasons of mere convenience or ‘practicality’ leads gradually and yet inexorably to a state of lawlessness. If ‘the people’ decide that the government can infringe upon their rights to keep and bear arms, there is a well-organized process for changing the Constitution and amending the law. Absent that occurrence, arguing that the law is impractical is pretty much moot point.
The second point – that citizen ownership and bearing of firearms – causes harm has become the sticking point of dogmatic arguments on all sides of the debate. The anti-gun dogma rests on dodgy foundations. Its proponents argue that the legal ownership of guns causes more violence. And when a tragedy like the Las Vegas mass shooting occurs, they are quick to jump on the bandwagon of heavily restrictive gun reform.
I live in the District of Columbia, where up until 2008, legal gun ownership was strictly prohibited. And yet, during the period of time beginning in the mid-1980s through the early 2000s, gun violence in D.C. occurred at an alarming rate. In some years during the 1990s, D.C. per capita homicide rate was the highest in the nation. Other major metropolitan centers – New York, Detroit, and Chicago in particular - with strict gun control ordinances also experienced dizzying rates of gun homicides. The overwhelming majority of this violence was committed by criminals wielding illegally obtained firearms.
Once the U.S. Supreme Court declared D.C.’s ban on gun ownership unconstitutional in 2008, the District Government immediately set about implementing regulations that would make gun ownership all but impossible. The D.C. government sought, for example, to restrict the right to concealed carry. Again, that’s a victory for the criminals, not law-abiding citizens. Small business owners who carried large sums of cash, and law-abiding citizens living in areas victimized by high crime rates basically found themselves at the mercy of armed criminals who ran rampant and terrorized residents. And the government, seemingly oblivious to the obvious power disparity between lawless criminals and defenseless citizens, pushed blindly forward with its anti-gun dogma. That state of affairs constitutes the very essence of an encroachment of tyranny which the Constitution’s framers sought to forestall.
Let’s allow common sense to prevail for once. Legal gun ownership with common sense regulations promotes peace and prosperity. Are some regulations necessary in order to prevent criminals and murderers from obtaining stockpiles of deadly automatic weapons? Yes. Does that mean we should toss out the considered wisdom of our nation’s founders who planned to protect the populace from government overreach? Absolutely not.