A supreme threat of gun violence
On Nov. 3, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the most significant firearms case in more than a decade. And it looks like it will rule in a way that ensures more deaths due to gun violence.
In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, an NRA affiliate, is trying to get the court to rule that a New York State law requiring people to get a license to carry a gun in public violates the Second Amendment.
The court’s conservative majority seemed inclined to deny most restrictions. Asked Justice Brett Kavanaugh, “Why isn’t it good enough to say ‘I live in a violent area and I want to defend myself?’” And Justice Samuel Alito wondered why only “celebrities, state judges and retired police officers” are allowed to carry concealed guns.
Currently, to get a license to carry in New York state, people must demonstrate a special need to defend themselves, such as being the target of recurring threats. Six other states, with about one-quarter of the U.S. population, have laws like New York’s, and many cities do as well. If the Supreme Court rules against licensing laws like New York’s, anyone who legally owns a gun might be able to carry it in public.
But data shows that allowing people to carry guns in public with few restrictions is unsafe. Gun crimes and deaths increase dramatically. Stanford gun violence researcher John Donohue found that states that relax concealed carry laws have a 13% to 15% higher violent crime rates within 10 years.
Despite this data, the NRA and its affiliate want to have more people carrying guns in public places.
The Second Amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Consequently, in its unanimous 1939 United States v. Miller decision, the Supreme Court said the “obvious purpose” of the Second Amendment was to “render possible the effectiveness” of well-regulated state militia forces, and that the amendment “must be interpreted and applied with that end in view.” The decisive weight was on the “well regulated Militia” language in the text.
But the 2008 Heller and subsequent McDonald Supreme Court decisions re-interpreted the Second Amendment for the first time as an individual right to keep a handgun for defense of “home and hearth.”
Now, in this latest case, the court could extend the supposed Second Amendment individual right far beyond the home, and forbid the states from requiring gun owners to obtain a license to carry a gun in public places.
But prohibiting state and local legislatures from passing laws that regulate gun carrying in public would threaten the safety of all Americans. Furthermore, if states cannot regulate gun carrying in public, foreign and domestic terrorists could threaten American democracy.
Will the Supreme Court forbid states and cities from passing laws in response to local constituencies and local conditions? Let’s hope not.
— Griffin Dix is co-chair of the Oakland/Alameda County Brady Chapter. His 15-year-old son, Kenzo, was shot and killed in 1994. This column was produced for The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.