Guns

Even people who don’t like guns ought to be happy about this week’s Supreme Court ruling that the Second Amendment – the “keep and bear arms” clause of the Constitution – binds state and local governments, in addition to the federal government. Way too much time and energy has been wasted arguing about the Second Amendment: it’s obvious the Framers expected private ownership of guns.

While the decision makes clear there exists an individual right to possess firearms, the decision also makes clear that firearm ownership may be regulated. That is every bit as important as settling the argument regarding the breadth of the Second Amendment. In fact, this week’s Supreme Court decision could be the best thing that ever happened to gun regulation – and I say that as someone who’s owned guns.

Thanks, Supreme Court, for making clear that gun ownership can be regulated. There is now no doubt an individual right of firearm possession exists, and also no doubt government may regulate that right.  So let’s fix the regulation of guns — by focusing regulation on dangerous firearms.

There is a little-understood legal distinction between guns and dangerous guns. The Supreme Court’s majority opinion, most of which is by Justice Samuel Alito, spells out that dangerous guns are subject to regulation by all levels of government; a dissent by Justice Stephen Breyer adds emphasis on that issue. Lobbying and commentary about firearms has for too long been divided into camps of gun-lovers and gun-haters. We ought instead to focus on regulation of dangerous guns, which the Supreme Court ruling just reiterated is entirely Constitutional.

Aren’t all guns dangerous? In legal terms, a “dangerous” gun is one that creates risks beyond the normal risks associated with hunting and marksmanship; or that is used mainly for crime. In 1934, Congress banned private ownership of machine guns, fully automatic guns, sawed-off shotguns, silencers and flash suppressors. These weapons and attachments, Congress said, had no legitimate purposes, such as hunting or self-defense. In 1939, the Supreme Court upheld this 1934 act, and Monday, the Supreme Court affirmed its primary reasoning. Other laws restricting cheap throwaway weapons, which are plainly intended for crime, have been upheld. The Supreme Court’s new decision reiterates that gun rights may be regulated to prevent the spread of dangerous firearms, while allowing possession of guns intended for use in lawful ways.