Divided House

As we await the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the handgun ban in Washington, D.C, Second Amendment proponents are hopeful that the court will strike a blow for the Second Amendment. But even if the Supreme Court does rule that the Second Amendment secures an individual right to bear arms, don’t expect the issue to go away. Many legal experts expect the ruling—whichever way it goes—to be so narrowly focused that it will only foment more debate, more division and more legislation.

One of the more interesting articles I’ve read on what’s going on comes from the monthly newsletter of the National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers. What struck me was that the current administration, which has been very gun-friendly is, on this issue, a house divided against itself. See for yourself.

“Pro-gun scholar John Lott notes that whatever the court decides, no one expects the decision to end gun control or the gun control debate. If the D.C. ban is upheld by the court, it is unlikely that any gun regulation around the country will ever be struck down on Constitutional grounds. If the court strikes the D.C. law, where the courts draw the line on what laws are considered ‘reasonable’ regulations will take years to sort out.

“The District of Columbia has made essentially a simple argument in their case: ‘banning handguns saves lives.’

“Lott points out that the Department of Justice has actually sided with the District in certain important parts of the case, as Solicitor General Paul Clement will argue that an ‘unquestionable threat to public safety’ from unregulated guns requires a lower standard must be adopted in defending the right than is used to defend the rest of the Bill of Rights.

“The DOJ constitutional argument is similar to that of the District’s. It argues, incorrectly, that since the government ‘bans’ machine guns, it should also be able to ban handguns. And they claim that D.C. residents still retain a right to self-defense because the city doesn't ban locked shotguns and rifles.

“One problem with the DOJ argument is that the federal government does not ‘ban’ machine guns, it severely regulates them but they can, of course, still be possessed under federal law. The other problem with the DOJ’s arguments is that long guns become illegal as soon as they are unlocked or assembled. This means that the District can prosecute anyone who uses a rifle or shotgun in self-defense--even if it was kept locked before the incident causing its use.

“What underlies the DOJ arguments, of course is government retaining its power, i.e. the DOJ would lose regulatory power if the ban were struck down. As the DOJ lawyers note in the brief, striking down this ban could ‘cast doubt on the constitutionality of existing federal legislation.’

“Meanwhile, for the first time in U.S. history, an administration has provided conflicting briefs to the Supreme Court. Vice President Dick Cheney, as president of the Senate, has signed onto a Congressional friend of the court brief in support of the individual rights view of the Second Amendment. The brief, signed by 55 members of the U.S. Senate and 250 members of the U.S. House, has the largest number of co-signers for a congressional amicus brief in history.”

So, our own government would like the ruling to go against us because it’s afraid of losing power?

—Slaton White