In 2008, the United States Supreme Court ruled that “the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense” as it struck down a gun ban in the District of Columbia – the first time the court established a federal right to keep and bear arms on the basis of self-defense and outside of a military context.
Immediately following that 2008 decision, two cities in Illinois – Chicago and one of its suburbs, Oak Park – passed local ordinances banning handgun possession. The legal concept was that the court’s decision only applied at the federal level and the Second Amendment didn’t apply to the states. In other words, the 14th Amendment, routinely used by liberal advocacy groups under the guise of “incorporation” to force states to embrace progressivism, all of a sudden did not apply to the states as it pertains to gun control.
While the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the local gun-ban ordinances, the Supreme Court reversed that decision, in effect, saying the Second Amendment (through incorporation of the 14th Amendment) applies to the states and prohibits state or local ordinances that ban handguns for the purpose of self-defense.
Interestingly, the court stated in its decision that one of its primary tasks was to “decide whether that right is fundamental to the Nation’s scheme of ordered liberty.” That’s an important term to remember: ordered liberty.
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting, gun control has become a hot topic once again. A full-court press from gun control advocates is happening as we speak. Frankly, there will be no limit to the amount of gun control ideas, which is unfortunate because gun control won’t stop mentally ill people from hurting others. Nor will it keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
The Supreme Court stated “Self-defense is a basic right…and [the court’s previous decision] held that individual self-defense is the ‘central component’ of the Second Amendment right.” The court went on to say,
Explaining that ‘the need for defense of self, family and property is most acute’ in the home, the Court found that this right applies to handguns because they are ‘the most preferred firearm in the nation to ‘keep’ and use for the protection of one’s home and family.
Inevitably, the argument over gun control will center on whether or not guns in the hands of responsible citizens have a deterrent effect on crime. Would the Sandy Hook gunman have gone to the school knowing the school staff, in some fashion, was equipped to fight back? The answer to that question is largely dependent on how crazy the shooter really was at the time. There’s no stopping a person who’s mentally ill and who’s ready to die as well. Nothing can be done – not even taking away guns.
President Obama remarked that, “We can’t tolerate this any more. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. … But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this … surely we have an obligation to try.”
He then went on to say that he will use “whatever power [his] office holds” to prevent these tragedies. Well, good luck with that, Mr. President.
The reality is that deeper, more meaningful, change has to occur throughout society. The values and ethics that have guided most Americans for generations are now denigrated as anachronistic. The truth is that those values have held together our families and communities. It’s time we call on those values again – not just to comfort each other when crises occur but actually to guide human behavior in their prevention. That’s our best gun control.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.