Using Guns to Protect Liberty

Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in McDonald v. Chicago – the Second Amendment case with implications far beyond gun rights.  The Court is quite likely to extend the right to keep and bear arms to the states and thereby invalidate the Chicago handgun ban at issue, but the way in which it does so could revolutionize constitutional law.

In response to the oppression of freed slaves and abolitionists in southern and border states after the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment’s drafters sought to protect individual rights from infringement by state and local governments.  The amendment’s Due Process Clause and Privileges or Immunities Clause provided overlapping but distinct protections for these rights.  The Court decided in the 1873 Slaughter-House Cases, however, that the Privileges or Immunities Clause only protected Americans’ rights as national, not state, citizens.  This reactionary holding eviscerated the clause, rendering it powerless to protect individual rights from state interference.

McDonald provides the Court an opportunity to overturn the Slaughter-House Cases and finally restore the Privileges or Immunities Clause to its proper role as a check against government intrusion on individual rights.  Doing so would secure Americans’ natural rights, such as the freedom of contract and the right to earn an honest living, without enabling judges to invent constitutional rights to health care or welfare payments.  For a more detailed discussion of McDonald’s potential implications, and how the Court should rule, see my recent op-ed here.

I will also be participating in several public events this week on McDonald, the Fourteenth Amendment, and firearm regulation.  Today at 4:00 p.m., I will be speaking at a Cato policy forum, which will be broadcast live on C-SPAN and which you may watch online here.  Tomorrow at 3:30 p.m., I will participate in a post-argument discussion of McDonald at the Georgetown University Law Center, which event is cosponsored by the Federalist Society and the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy (where Josh Blackman and I recently published a lengthy article on the subject).  And on Wednesday at noon, I will be participating in a Cato Capitol Hill briefing on McDonald and the future of gun rights at the Rayburn House Office Building, room B-340 (more information here).