On Gun Policy, Time for Balance -- Finally

07/21/2008 01:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I wanted to share an op-ed I wrote for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. My main point is that the recent Supreme Court decision on the Second Amendment provides a chance to finally move forward on issues that impact hunters and shooters. My organization, the American Hunters and Shooters Association (AHSA), is a gun rights organization, but we believe in a balanced approach. It's time to change the extreme politics that mark the debate over American's gun policy:

The National Rifle Association wants to relive the past and plans to spend $40 million to campaign against Sen. Barack Obama. For the NRA, it is a desperate attempt to remain relevant in light of the recent Supreme Court decision in the Washington, D.C., gun law case, District of Columbia v. Heller.

The gun lobby wanted Justice Antonin Scalia to author the long-awaited decision in Heller, but when he did, he confirmed what I and most gun owners have long believed: Citizens have an individual right to keep and bear arms, not only as members of organized militias, but that right is not unlimited.

According to Justice Scalia, "Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited." He went on to say, "Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on long-standing 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."

Those aren't the words of a gun-control advocate; they were written by one of the most conservative justices on the bench. They undermine the NRA's all-or-nothing approach which has been so damaging to the gun debate for so long.

My organization, the American Hunters and Shooters Association, filed an amicus brief in support of Heller and against the District of Columbia's outright ban on the possession of handguns. We applauded the Supreme Court ruling.

The Heller decision signals that the gun debate in this country no longer includes the NRA's extreme right-wing position of allowing unlimited access to any gun by anyone. The court also made it clear that most guns are now safe from government confiscation. Policy makers can craft responsible and appropriate measures to ensure guns do not fall into the wrong hands or get carried into the wrong places.

This thoughtful approach by Justice Scalia is shared by the vast majority of the nation's 80 million gun owners and by Mr. Obama, who supports an individual right to own a gun but says, "The notion that somehow local jurisdictions can't initiate gun safety laws to deal with gang bangers and random shootings on the street isn't born out by our Constitution."

With Scalia's ruling, it is time to move on. We're ready to do that. So is Barack Obama. As a law professor, Obama believed the Second Amendment conferred an individual right. He also knew that right wasn't absolute. Obama is on the right track for other issues of grave concern to America's hunting community, like global warming. Unfortunately, the leaders of the NRA have chosen partisan politics over protecting our environment:

Earlier this year, 670 hunting and fishing organizations, including the hunters and shooters association, became actively engaged in the fight against global warming. We see the effects firsthand. Hunters like me can tell you that the ducks are coming later and later every year.

The NRA was absent. In fact, NRA leaders actively undermine the efforts of hunting and fishing groups. NRA board member Grover Norquist, through his group, Americans for Taxpayer Reform, co-sponsored a conference for self-proclaimed global warming "skeptics."

At the hunters and shooters association, we aren't going to spend $40 million on tired partisan politics. What we spend goes to actually protecting your right to have a gun, to be safe in your home and to have a place that isn't polluted to hunt and fish. The voices of ordinary hunters and shooters are finally being heard.

Mr. Obama isn't perfect, but he believes the Second Amendment confers an individual right to own a gun, although he doesn't think it protects "gang bangers." This position, plus his commitment to protecting our natural resources and our hunting and shooting heritage, makes sense to me and millions of other responsible gun owners.