The Right to Possess Firearms, Strong Money Behind a Weak Argument

Thirty years ago on March 30, 1981, John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Regan in front of the Washington Hilton Hotel. Hinckley fired six rounds from a .22-caliber pistol striking the president, a Secret Service agent, a police officer – and seriously injuring then Regan administration press secretary James Brady.

In response to this senseless tragedy and in spite of opposition from the National Rifle Association (NRA), in 1993 President Clinton signed The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act into law. The Brady Act simply requires that background checks be conducted on individuals before a firearm may be purchased from a federally licensed dealer, manufacturer or importer – unless an exception applies. Based upon FBI data, currently, 92 percent of Brady background checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) are completed while the FBI is still on the phone with the gun dealer. In rare cases, a gun purchaser may have to wait for up to three business days if the NICS system fails to positively approve or deny his/her application to purchase a firearm. If a denial is not issued within those three days, the transfer may be completed at that time.

Over the past 30 years since the attempted assassination of President Regan and the dramatically life-altering brain damage inflicted upon Brady, America has endured numerous gun-related tragedies. On April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 13 fellow students and teachers and injured 21 others. On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho murdered 32 fellow students and others at Virginia Tech. Most recently, on January 8, 2011, Jared Lee Loughner murdered six and injured 13, as he attempted to murder Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona.

In spite of all of this senseless death, tragedy and mayhem, the NRA, their paid lobbying henchmen, and others continue to oppose reasonable, responsible and necessary gun laws. They base their argument on a misguided reading of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. “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.”

Any one who understands the English language and punctuation recognizes that the right of the people to keep and bear arms is in the context of a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state. As America developed a standing Army and a National Guard, the needs for a well-regulated militia went away – and with it – the right to keep and bear arms.

Even if that argument does not withstand challenge, assault weapons (those designed specifically for military use, i.e. the killing of other human beings) and extended clips (such as the one used by Loughner to murder six and injure 13 without having to stop and reload) have no social redeeming value and should be banned.

A few years ago, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to own a gun. Justice Scalia (a gun owner) wrote that self-defense is a “central” constitutional right that requires the ownership of guns (specifically handguns) be permitted so that it can be fully exercised. What is important about Justice Scalia's statement is there's nothing in the Articles of Confederation, the minutes of the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention or the United States Constitution itself that supports this position. In fact, the Heller decision disregards the precedent established 72 years ago in a 1939 case, United States v. Miller. As the Honorable Judge Reggie B. Walton wrote in 2004, “For more than sixty years following the Supreme Court's decision in Miller, there was little judicial debate regarding the scope of the Second Amendment, as almost every circuit court interpreted Miller as rejecting the notion that the Second Amendment provided individuals a constitutional right to possess firearms.”

Over the past 30 years (and longer) Americans have endured the threats of the Hinckleys, Harrises and Klebolds, Chos and Loughners of the world (among others). It's time for a peace-loving enlightened society to do away with the public's ability to purchase assault weapons and extended clips for handguns. Hunters don't need them and they serve no socially redeeming value.

For more than 60 years the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment did not guarantee a personal right to possess a firearm. The NRA has placed strong money behind a constitutionally weak argument.