I represent ordinary people who suffer extraordinary hardship at the hands of the most powerful group in this society, the armed government. Labels follow me everywhere I go. People hear that I’m a Civil Rights attorney, and I see them flinch. They typically ask me if I’m a liberal, if I’m an atheist, if I’m with the ACLU, or if I hate cops. “No,” I always say. But their faces show suspicion.
Anyway, when I heard that a 24 year old man barged into a movie theater in Colorado and started shooting innocent people with an assault rifle, I was shocked by the level of gun violence that this event highlighted. I also realized that discussion would soon turn away from that event and to the question: should we make it tougher for people to own guns. Here, I address that question, offering an opinion that I believe best respects the Civil Rights of every law abiding American citizen.
First, we should look at what the law says about our right to own guns. The Second Amendment states: “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.” That text doesn’t exactly ring with clarity. For that, we have to turn to the observations of the United States Supreme Court. In our three-branched system of government, they are the last word on the Constitution.
Together two recent but very important cases, District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago interpret the Second Amendment and lead us to two points of clarity: the Constitution does not allow federal or state government to summarily ban guns from law abiding citizens; and the right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right that is necessary to our “system of ordered liberty.”
But the Supreme Court has also noted that the Second Amendment right to own a gun is limited. As the Court said, it’s “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” The Court cautioned that their decisions shouldn’t be interpreted in a way that would cast doubt on some old laws that already prohibit felons and the mentally ill from having guns. Nor should their decision be interpreted to question laws that forbid the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. And so as a matter of law, gun bans are unconstitutional. But limitations on gun ownership are here to stay.
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After the Colorado theater shooting we now hear many asking the question, shouldn’t we increase the limitations on gun ownership?
No. We should not make it harder for a law abiding citizen to get a gun. We should make it easier for law-abiding citizens to follow the law and have access to firearms, virtually any firearm. Gun ownership is a Civil Right, after all.
Look, face it. Guns in one form or another will exist as long as armed conflict with another human being is a possibility. The only practical, if not reasonable, solution and response to the Colorado shooter was a bullet, preferably between his eyes as he aimed his gun in the direction of the men, women, and children who died that day. There is simply no better response to an armed threat than properly deployed arms.
Getting rid of guns weakens our ability to defend ourselves from domestic and overseas threats. While unlikely, the possibility of armed conflict on American soil with an enemy country or faction isn’t something we should take lightly – especially since 9/11.