The Gun Control Debate & the Second Amendment
As we again debate gun control in the wake of another mass shooting, conservative commentators have been pushing the false notion that the Supreme Court substantially limited potential gun control legislation with its opinion in DC v Heller . That is simply a fiction. While Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, held that gun ownership is a general right [not just for those in a "militia"], he was also clear that the right could be regulated by the states.
The Court held that cities like DC could not ban handguns but suggested that many gun regulations would be Constitutionally permissible. For example, he wrote, "although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." Scalia acknowledged that the nation's founders had created a myriad of gun control regulations having to do with public safety and that we could too as long as they addressed important safety concerns.
So, what other gun regulations might be permissible? We simply don't know and since Heller was a 5-4 opinion, much will rest on the future make-up of the Court. But its interesting to note that in November the Court refused to consider 2 appeals leaving intact a gun control law in Maryland that restricts the types of weapons that can be bought, and in Florida that generally prevents "open carry" by gun owners.