The recent Senate Judiciary Committee on gun violence did not dwell on the constitutionality of the proposed gun safety measures. That's probably because it is well settled that the individual right to bear arms is not an unlimited one.
In fact, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre did not even mention the Second Amendment in his opening statement. The right-wing Gayle Trotter did, however, in her opening statement, but in curious terms, arguing that somehow guns make women safer.
Trotter said we must "safeguard our Second Amendment rights," and that the U.S. Supreme Court has held the amendment "protects an individual's right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home." She then continued on to claim that the individual right to bear arms is superior to other liberties protected by the Constitution.
The case Trotter cites, D.C. v. Heller, also held that like other individual liberties, the Second Amendment is not absolute, meaning some regulations are warranted and not a threat to the individual liberty. And let's not forget that Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the Court's opinion in Heller.
As Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) noted in his opening statement, the Second Amendment "is secure and will remain secure and protected." None of the measures -- universal background checks, limitations on high-capacity ammunition magazines and access to military-style assault weapons -- would outlaw guns. There is no talk of confiscating firearms.
The so-called slippery slope argument -- that every regulation is a step toward limiting liberty -- is employed to arouse fear. Indeed the argument that regulation of guns represents a creeping government effort to eviscerate an individual right has been employed successfully for far too long to shut down consideration of reasonable and more effective efforts to curb gun violence.
The rights that need to be safeguarded are those of innocent people who die daily from gun violence. It's estimated that 30,000 people die yearly because of gun violence. More can and should be done to make sure military-style weapons do not wind up in the hands of people bent on harming the rights of innocent people. The Second Amendment does not forbid such action for the individual liberty to own firearms does not trump other liberties. And the high court in Heller and many constitutional law scholars recognize that.
A recent statement that two longtime ACS leaders, professors Adam Winkler and Geoffrey Stone, crafted notes that our country has a long history of regulating the right to bear arms, without running afoul of the Constitution. (Forty-nine additional constitutional law scholars signed onto the statement.)
"The founding fathers who wrote and ratified the Second Amendment also had laws to keep guns out of the hands of people thought to be untrustworthy," the professors' statement reads.
"Such laws were necessary to ensure that the citizen militia referenced in the Second Amendment was 'well regulated.' In the 1800s, many states restricted the sale or public possession of concealable firearms. In the early twentieth century, the federal government restricted access to unusually dangerous weapons, such as machine guns, and states barred people convicted of certain felonies from possessing firearms. Laws such as these were routinely upheld by the courts, which recognized the legitimacy of legislative efforts to keep the most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous people."
There's a reason why the Second Amendment did not take center-stage during the first congressional hearing following the Newtown, Conn., mass shooting that took the lives of 20 children -- common-sense measures to curb violence do not threaten it.
As The New York Times editorial board noted recently, "The Second Amendment is nowhere at stake." As well it should not be. The right to bear arms is not on shaky ground. The gun lobby wants us to believe otherwise in order to maintain the status quo. But the status quo is costing lives. We can do better and do so without undermining liberties.
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