By Paul Helmke
After watching the oral arguments [pdf] yesterday morning at the U.S. Supreme Court in the McDonald v. City of Chicago gun case, I did find some things which should be positive for the cause of reducing gun violence.
On the one hand, it is true that Chicago’s virtual ban on handguns appears to be in jeopardy. Yet that particular outcome has long seemed a near certainty, particularly since the five Justices who voted in the majority in the District of Columbia v. Heller case – which found DC’s handgun ban unconstitutional – still sit on the Court today.
More important, however, is the argument that the Brady Center made in the “friend of the court” brief [pdf] we filed in the McDonald case. The Brady Center argued that, regardless of how the Supreme Court decides the “incorporation” issue, the Justices should reaffirm the limitations on gun ownership they set out in the Heller decision and defer to the judgments of elected officials who enact reasonable regulations on gun ownership, short of a broad gun ban, to protect the public from gun violence.
In fact, based on the comments that I (and apparently several others) heard from the bench yesterday, the Justices seemed to express a consensus reinforcing the Court’s strong language in Heller that reasonable restrictions on gun ownership are “presumptively lawful.”
As Justice Antonin Scalia – author of the majority opinion in Heller – reminded gun advocate attorney Alan Gura, “we find what the minimum constitutional right is and everything above that is up to the States.”
If the Court’s opinion in McDonald bears out this impression, then law enforcement officials and our communities will be safer for it.
In practical terms, such a result would mean that most common sense restrictions on gun ownership would withstand Second Amendment scrutiny, including: Brady criminal background checks on all gun sales including at gun shows; restrictions on civilian access to military-style assault weapons; prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons; limits on bulk purchases of handguns to cut gun trafficking; and prohibitions on guns in bars, airports, public parks, college campuses and churches.
This broad deference to public safety policy decisions of state and local officials has been policy for the last 220 years of American history, and should continue to be so in the future.
In the two years since the Heller decision, courts throughout the country have rejected the arguments of gun criminals and the gun lobby that the Second Amendment enshrines their “any gun, anywhere, any time” agenda. Yesterday the Justices, both conservative and liberal, appeared to agree.
While everything obviously depends on what the Supreme Court actually writes in its final opinion, it appears that a majority of the Justices will say the Second Amendment allows Americans to have nearly all of the strong, common sense gun laws that they want and need to help protect their communities.
Like everyone else, I will be awaiting with great interest the Court’s decision in June.