Tag: gun rights

The Court Restores a Fundamental Right

Today is a big victory for gun rights and a bigger one for liberty.  The Supreme Court has correctly decided that state actions violating the right to keep and bear arms are no more valid than those taken by the federal government.

It could not have been otherwise: the Fourteenth Amendment, coming on the heels of the Civil War, says clearly that never again would the Constitution tolerate state oppressions, and that all individuals possess certain fundamental rights.  It is equally clear that the right to keep and bear arms is one of those deeply rooted fundamental rights, not least because the Framers thought so highly of it as to enumerate it in the Second Amendment.

Still, Justice Alito’s plurality opinion leaves a lot to be desired, in that his ultimately correct conclusion rests on a dog’s breakfast of Substantive Due Process “incorporation” doctrine that arose only because the Privileges or Immunities Clause was strangled in its crib by an 1870s Supreme Court that refused to reconcile itself to the changes in constitutional structure wrought by the Fourteenth Amendment.  Justice Thomas’s response to this tortured attempt to fit a square fundamental right into a round procedural guarantee is the right one: “I cannot accept a theory of constitutional interpretation that rests on such tenuous footing.”

Only Justice Thomas grapples with the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, surveying the rich history of the terms “privileges” and “immunities” to find that the right to defend oneself is part and parcel of the inalienable rights we all possess—and indeed it is “essential to the preservation of liberty.”  The Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment—the most important “Framers” in this context—plainly deemed this right “necessary to include in the minimum baseline of federal rights that the Privileges or Immunities Clause established in the wake of the War over slavery.”  All arguments to the contrary lack legal, historical and even philosophical basis.

And so it is a very good thing, again for liberty, that the Court needs Thomas’s fifth vote to rule as it does: while the plurality declines to reconsider the old and discredited Privileges or Immunities precedent, Thomas’s clarion call for a libertarian originalism provides a step on which to build in future.

Finally, as we celebrate the belated recognition of a precious right—the one that allows us to protect all the others—we must be shocked and saddened to see four justices (including Sonia Sotomayor, who at her confirmation hearings suggested she would do otherwise) standing for the proposition that states can violate this right at will, checked by nothing more than the political process.  This is a nation of laws, not men—a republic, not a pure democracy—and thus it is disconcerting to see, as we do time and time again with this Court, that the only thing separating us from rule by a crude majoritarian impulse is one vote.  Thank God that, in this case, that vote was Justice Thomas’s.

How to Prevent a Fort Hood Shooting

I wrote some posts a few months ago (1, 2, 3) about the difficulty of discovering and preventing essentially random events like the Fort Hood shooting. I was pleased by the compliment security guru Bruce Schneier paid them in his recent post, “Small Planes and Lone Terrorist Nutcases.” (Such happy subject matter we get to write about!)

Now comes Radley Balko with a great column illustrating what you get when authorities try to “get ahead” of this problem. “Pre-Crime Policing” tells the story of a gun buyer who had been tagged with the adjective “disgruntled.” A SWAT team appeared on his property, police tricked him into surrendering for a mental evaluation, they illegally entered his home, and they seized his guns.

Says the victim of these invasions, “South Oregon is big gun country. If something like this can happen here, where just about everyone owns a gun, it can happen anywhere.”

Especially if we ask law enforcement to prevent random violence.

Gun Rights Secure, Liberty Less So

This morning the Court heard argument in McDonald v. Chicago, the case asking whether the right to keep and bear arms extends to protecting against actions by state and local governments.  Just as importantly, it asked whether the best way to extend that right would be through the Due Process Clause of Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (because the Second Amendment doesn’t apply directly to the states).

From the initial questioning through the end, it was quite clear that those living in Chicago – and, by extension, New York, San Francisco, and other places with extreme gun restrictions – will soon be able to rest easy, knowing that they will be able to have guns with which to protect themselves.  Unfortunately, the Court did not seem inclined to adopt the arguments propounded by petitioners’ counsel Alan Gura (and supported by Cato) that the Privileges or Immunities Clause was the way to go.   Chief Justice Roberts expressed reluctance at having to overturn the 1873 Slaughterhouse Cases and other justices joined in concerns over how activist judges would use the Clause if the Court revived it – even if that were the path that hewed more closely to the constitution’s true meaning.

This turn of events is unfortunate because reviving the Privileges or Immunities Clause, far from giving judges free reign to impose their policy views, would actually tie them closer to the text, structure, and history of the Constitution.  As it stands now – and as it seems will be the case after McDonald is decided – many of our most cherished rights are protected only to the extent that judges are willing to label them as sufficiently “fundamental” to warrant such protection.  That is an unprincipled jurisprudence and one that hurts the rule of law.

In short, it is a shame that the Supreme Court seems to be wasting a perfect opportunity to bring constitutional law closer to the Constitution.  It is an even greater shame that it is wasting this chance to use guns to protect liberty.

Civil Liberties Advocates, Not ‘Gun Advocates’

In this NPR story Nina Totenberg gives both sides their say.  But twice she refers to the people advocating Second Amendment rights as “gun advocates” (and once as “gun rights advocates”). That’s not the language NPR uses in other such cases. In 415 NPR stories on abortion, I found only one reference to “abortion advocates,” in 2005. There are far more references, hundreds more, to “abortion rights,” “reproductive rights,” and “women’s rights.” And certainly abortion-rights advocates would insist that they are not “abortion advocates,” they are advocates for the right of women to choose whether or not to have an abortion. NPR grants them the respect of characterizing them the way they prefer.

Similarly, NPR has never used the phrase “pornography advocates,” though it has run a number of stories on the First Amendment and how it applies to pornography. The lawyers who fight restrictions on pornography are First Amendment advocates, not pornography advocates.

And the lawyers who seek to guarantee our rights under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution should be called Second Amendment advocates, or advocates of the right to self-defense, or civil liberties advocates. Or even “gun rights advocates,” as they do advocate the right of individuals to choose whether or not to own a gun. But not “gun advocates.”

New Lawsuit against DC Government

Yesterday the Washington Post ran a nice profile about Tom Palmer and other DC residents who are challenging the constitutionality of regulations that make it a crime for people to bring their firearm outside of their residence for purposes of self-defense.  Most criminal attacks occur outside the home (around 87%) and the criminals are armed and always have the advantage of choosing when they’ll strike – and that’s usually when there are no cops around.

Related Cato scholarship here.  More here.

Keeping Pandora’s Box Sealed

The moment everyone was waiting for has arrived: The article Josh Blackman and I wrote, “Keeping Pandora’s Box Sealed: Privileges or Immunities, The Constitution in 2020, and Properly Extending the Right to Keep and Bear Arms to the States,” has officially come out in the Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy.  (I previously blogged about this article here, among other places, and here’s a recent reference on Reason’s blog.)  The journal thought enough of our work to publish it on page 1 of issue 1 of this year’s volume.

We’re also grateful to the journal editors for expediting the editing and publication process generally so that the article would come out in time for the McDonald v. Chicago argument.  Indeed, that strategy is already paying off, with “Keeping Pandora’s Box Sealed” having been cited in the petitioners’ reply brief – not to mention Cato’s amicus brief.  The Georgetown JLPP has been cited in Supreme Court opinions the past two terms, so we’re cautiously optimistic about our chance to continue this trend.

In addition to reading the article (also available on SSRN), you can also attend various presentations I’m giving in the next two weeks about McDonald v. Chicago and properly extending the right to keep and bear arms to the states:

  • Feb. 23 at lunch - University of New Mexico Law School (sponsored by the Federalist Society) - “McDonald v. City of Chicago and Properly Extending the Right to Keep and Bear Arms”
  • Feb. 25 at 1:30pm EST/10:30 PST - ABA Continuing Legal Education Teleconference - “Beyond Gun Control: McDonald v. City of Chicago and Incorporation of Bill of Rights” (registration fee, 1.5 hours of CLE credit)
  • Mar. 1 at 4pm - Cato Institute Policy Forum - “McDonald v. Chicago: Will the Right to Keep and Bear Arms Apply to the States?
  • [Mar. 2 at 10am - Supreme Court argument in McDonald - I will be giving a statement to the media scrum on the marble steps afterward]
  • Mar. 2 at 3:30pm - Georgetown University Law School - Post-Argument Discussion of McDonald and “Keeping Pandora’s Box Sealed” (sponsored by the GJLPP and the Federalist Society)
  • Mar. 3 at 12pm - Cato Institute Hill Briefing in B-340 Rayburn House Office Building - “McDonald v. Chicago: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Future of Gun Rights

You can also listen here to a half-hour podcast about “Keeping Pandora’s Box Sealed” that I recently recorded with the Independence Institute’s David Kopel (also a Cato associate policy analyst).

Chapman on Chicago Pols and Guns

Steve Chapman has another terrific column – this one about gun regulations and the tendency of politicians to exempt themselves from such regulations – for the public good, of course.  Here’s an excerpt:

Roland Burris, another Chicagoan, has endorsed a nationwide ban on handguns and, in 1993, organized Chicago’s first Gun Turn-in Day. But the following year, while running unsuccessfully for governor, he admitted he owned a handgun – “for protection,” he explained – and hadn’t seen fit to turn it in along with those other firearms. Lesser mortals apparently can protect themselves with forks and spoons.

The Supreme Court will soon be hearing an important case about Chicago’s firearm regulations and the right to keep and bear arms.  Cato just filed an amicus brief (pdf) in that case.

Also, persons interested in this subject should know that Cato associate policy analyst David Kopel has a new book just out.

For additional Cato work, go here.