As a gun owner and urban gun violence prevention activist I'm pleased with the recent historic Supreme Court decision on the Second Amendment. For more than 10 years I've been advocating for responsible national gun policies that effectively reduce gun access by kids, criminals and terrorists WITHOUT BANNING GUNS. With this decision the Supreme Court has put an end to the counterproductive debate pitting proponents of banning guns against champions of providing unlimited access to guns while 30,000 or more mostly urban Americans die every year from largely preventable gun violence. The opinion states that the Constitution protects an individual's right to keep and bear arms while leaving room for the government to regulate gun ownership. Justice Scalia, writing for the 5-4 majority, states;
"Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."
He further noted that:
"nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on the 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".
Extremist arguments on both sides of the polarized debate are now moot. The NRA's smoke screen that responsible gun ownership laws and policy will take away an individual's right to bear arms or the "slippery slope" argument that any gun law will lead to banning guns is now without merit. Although I'm not aware of any legitimate gun violence prevention group or legislator calling for a gun ban -- that too is finally off the table.
Further Congress and State Legislatures can no longer use the argument that the Second Amendment precludes them from enacting responsible laws that place reasonable (and limited) restrictions on firearms, including criminal background checks for all gun sales that are not currently required for private gun sales in 32 states and at thousands of annual Gun Shows.
By finding that reasonable restrictions are constitutionally sound, the Supreme Court has shown its support both for rural gun owners rights where only limited restrictions are necessary and for uniform State and National gun laws that help protect the safety of law-abiding citizens especially in urban America where gun violence has reached epidemic proportions. Statistics show that states such as Massachusetts that have enacted comprehensive gun violence prevention legislation, including safe storage and safety training, minimum manufacturing standards and background checks for all gun sales, have significantly lower firearm fatality rates than do states with lax gun laws. In fact, Massachusetts is an urban industrialized state and has the second lowest firearm fatality rate in the nation only behind rural and isolated Hawaii.
In a concluding paragraph to the 64-page Supreme Court opinion, Scalia said the justices in the majority ''are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country'' and believe the Constitution ''leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns.'' The Court simply deemed the outright ban to be unconstitutional and as a gun owner and recreational trap shooter who splits his time between rural and urban America, I am hopeful that we can now begin a productive national debate about how to prevent easy gun access to those that don't deserve the Second Amendment protection while protecting the right of law abiding gun owners who do.
Unfortunately the Court did not determine a standard of review or clearly define what are reasonable restrictions and as a result the decision will be argued in the Court system for years to come. In the meantime hopefully the NRA and other gun rights extremists will have a much harder time using the fear of gun confiscation to raise political funds in order to intimidate members of Congress. Hopefully Congress can now focus on the passage of legislation requiring responsible gun use and public safety initiatives that have proven to save lives and reduce gun violence in both rural and urban America. Massachusetts has done so without banning guns and it is now time for Congress to follow it's lead. A reasonable first step would be for Congress to enact pending legislation, supported by both Presidential candidates, requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales at the 5,000 annual Gun Shows where international terrorists and domestic criminals have been able to buy weapons undetected.
John Rosenthal is the Co-Founder of Stop Handgun Violence, Common Sense About Kids and Guns and American Hunters and Shooters Association