Though we find ourselves in an election year, some of the responses to President Obama’s recent initiatives on gun control reverberate outside this political silly season.
Some responses to the president’s actions were easily predictable: How effective will these very limited initiatives really be in curbing rampant gun violence? Are some of these initiatives (for example, expanding the number of gun buyers who are subject to a background check) an overreach of executive authority? Is he exercising powers that belong to Congress, not the executive branch?
But it is past due to retire one common theme — the bogus claim that “any regulation of gun ownership violates Second Amendment rights.”
In a column written for an Iowa newspaper, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush claimed that Obama’s actions trample on the Second Amendment. Sen. Marco Rubio told a crowd in New Hampshire that the President has waged war on the Constitution. His initiatives were “meant to further erode the Second Amendment” and deny Americans the rights given by God.
It’s time to give that one a rest.
In 2008, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared (for the very first time) in the Heller case that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to own and possess a weapon, rather than having been written with the intention to guarantee the right of states to maintain a “well-regulated militia,” the court also pointedly emphasized that the right is not unlimited.
“Like most rights,” Justice Antonin Scalia noted, “the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. The “Second Amendment right to bear arms” he added is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed-weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues.”
The court urged policy-makers to take note that its opinion should not be understood to cast doubt on prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the sale of arms.
The Court also noted that the Second Amendment protects the possession of the sort of weapons that were “in common use at the time” of the adoption of the Second Amendment, in 1791, meaning that the “historical tradition” permits a prohibition on carrying dangerous and unusual weapons.
Here in Florida, the “any regulation of gun ownership violates Second Amendment rights” gave us the dangerous law that threatens doctors with the loss of their license should they initiate conversations with their patients about the safe storage of guns in the home, particularly in a home where there are children. Fortunately this law is not in effect because it is tied up in a constitutional challenge brought by several physicians and medical groups with the support of the ACLU.
Lawmakers apparently enacted this law (signed and championed by Gov. Rick Scott) out of concern that even talking about gun safety somehow threatens the “right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
Enough of the misleading if not disingenuous claims about threats to the Second Amendment — and enough of the bogus constitutional analysis.
Howard L. Simon is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.