Infringing Gun Rights is Not the Solution
Cries for more "gun control" have flooded opinion and editorial pages in the wake of the school shooting in Connecticut. We in America are entitled to our personal opinions. But the opinion that Americans do not have a right to own firearms, and the assertion that the Constitution does not protect the right of individuals to own firearms, is absolutely factually false and is incorrect as a matter of law.
In 2008, the United States Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), held that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects an individual's right to possess a firearm for private use within the home in federal enclaves. In 2010, in McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. __ (2010), the Supreme Court held that the right of an individual to keep and bear arms protected by the Second Amendment is incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and applies to the states. That American citizens have a right to own firearms is conclusive and irrefutable.
People who have an emotional revulsion to firearms in general and who respond to shooting tragedies with well-intentioned proposals to prohibit or restrict law-abiding citizens from possessing firearms must remember that possessing a firearm is not like possessing a boat or a golf club. The possession of boats and golf clubs are not enshrined in our Constitution as fundamental liberties.
The right to own a firearm was considered by both the Framers of the Constitution in 1787 and by the current Supreme Court to be equal in importance to the right to speak freely, the right to peaceably assemble and the right to practice religion. These liberties are guaranteed to each of us by the first two amendments to the Constitution in the Bill of Rights.
We may grit our teeth when watch the Ku Klux Klan use the rights guaranteed to Americans in the First Amendment to march and to make inflammatory statements with which we disagree. But would we say that because a few kooks use these rights to upset us we should restrict freedom of speech and peaceable assembly for all of the rest of us?
Of course firearms can be used by criminals and the mentally ill to commit crimes and to kill innocent people. But so can knives, cars and hammers. A speeding truck can cause the same mayhem as an illegally fired handgun.
Guns are the most effective way for individuals to protect themselves and their loved ones from attack. So the right question to ask is not whether guns can be used to commit crimes; the right question to ask is: "Are guns used more often to prevent crimes or to commit crimes, and do they save more lives than they take?" The research of John R. Lott and numerous other academics has proven beyond question that crimes are stopped with guns about five times as frequently as crimes are committed with guns. The irrefutable fact is that states with the largest increases in gun ownership also have the largest drops in violent crimes. States which allow law-abiding citizens to carry guns experience the lowest rates of violent crimes. Criminals are much less likely to attack people if they fear that their intended victims might be able to defend themselves. Since criminals do not know who is and who is not carrying a concealed handgun, if even only a few citizens actually carry concealed handguns they effectively reduce the likelihood of attack for everyone else.
Would more laws regulating firearms have prevented the killings in Connecticut? Do laws prohibiting the sale and possession of illegal drugs prevent drug addicts from buying drugs?
The answer is not to restrict the firearms rights of law-abiding citizens. The answer is that the mentally ill should not be allowed to buy firearms. Mental illness and crime reporting requirements should be tightened. States must diligently submit mental illness and criminal records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System so it can red flag individuals who should not be buying firearms.
Difficult though it may be to understand when we see crimes committed with firearms and the tragic loss of innocent life, we must remember that firearms are not like any of the other things we own. The Founders of America saw fit to place firearms in a highly exalted position in our framework of individual liberties. We must resist the temptation to abrogate the rights of many due to the illegal actions of a very few.
Ron Resnick is an expert on the Constitutional Law of the Second Amendment. See Ronald S. Resnick, "Private Arms as the Palladium of Liberty: The Meaning of the Second Amendment," U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 77 (1999). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org