Almost two years ago, I became president of the Brady Center and Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. A great deal has happened in the gun violence prevention movement since then, but one of the most important has been the debate in the Supreme Court over the meaning of the Second Amendment.
I was in the Supreme Court chambers during oral arguments in March, and I listened intently to the dialogue between the attorneys and Justices. I was back in the courtroom on Thursday when Justice Scalia read the majority decision and Justice Stevens read his dissent. Now that the Court has issued their opinions, there are a few points that should be discussed.
By way of introduction to new readers of the blog, I was mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana for 12 years. I was proud to be the 1998 Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Indiana. I have also been for common-sense gun control throughout my life.
Over the years, I have seen the gun lobby effectively thwart efforts to pass many sensible gun laws by arguing that even modest gun control would lead down the path to a complete ban on gun ownership. It is the classic "slippery slope" argument, and it has served the gun lobby well politically.
The "slippery slope," however, is now gone. The U.S. Supreme Court took it off the table Thursday in their D.C. v. Heller opinion. Government is now barred from "taking away" the guns of law-abiding Americans.
Because of this Court decision, proposals such as Brady background checks on all gun sales, limiting bulk sales of handguns, restricting access to military-style assault weapons, and strengthening the power of law enforcement to shut down corrupt gun dealers can now be debated on their merits without them being seen as a "first step on the road to gun confiscation."
While the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the District's ban on handguns, they also made it clear that the Constitution allows for reasonable restrictions on access to firearms. As Justice Scalia said, "the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited." When the dust settles, most Americans -- and I believe even most in the gun violence prevention movement -- will come to see that there are some positives in this decision.
Elected officials will no longer be able to use a mistaken, absolutist misreading of the Second Amendment as an excuse to do nothing about gun violence in our country. Politicians can't hide behind the Second Amendment anymore.
In public and political terms, gun control advocates "lost" the battle over the Second Amendment a long time ago. According to a recent Washington Post poll, about 75% of the American people believed that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual right to own a gun for private purposes before the Heller decision was announced. Given that Senator Obama, Senator Clinton, Mayor Bloomberg and the national Democratic Party platform all said basically the same thing prior to this ruling, a Supreme Court decision to the contrary would really have confused the general public.
What is fascinating, however, is that the same Washington Post poll shows almost 60% of Americans also approving the system of gun laws in the District of Columbia in effect before the Court's decision.
The American people support an "individual right" and they also support most "gun control" laws.
Unfortunately, this new court ruling will almost certainly embolden criminal defendants as well as the gun lobby to file new legal attacks on many existing gun laws. Prior to Heller, such challenges would have been dismissed out of hand under the Court's previous interpretation of the Second Amendment.
Nevertheless, with the help of the Brady Center's legal team, most of those new challenges can be successfully resisted in the interest of public safety. I am also confident we will prevail in advancing good new legislation to make it harder for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons because the battle lines will be drawn not on abstract Constitutional history, but on common sense gun policy in the here-and-now.
Approximately 80 Americans continue to die from guns every 24 hours in this country.
Our weak or non-existent gun laws contribute to the thousands of senseless gun deaths and injuries that occur each year in the United States. Our efforts need to focus on reducing these deaths and injuries.
We must keep up the fight for sensible gun laws to help protect our families and our communities. The Brady Campaign will continue to lead the charge.