Whither gun control?

Pseudonymous blogger Publius famously called the 2016 election a “Flight 93 election” for conservatives.  However, the 2016 presidential election appears to have been a “Flight 93” election for another group: gun control advocates.  The Supreme Court justices Donald Trump appears likely to appoint will severely limit the scope of future gun control legislation.

In 2008, the Supreme Court overturned the District of Columbia's handgun ban, along with their “safe storage requirement.”  The 5-4 ruling upheld an individual right to own a firearm for personal protection, unrelated to any militia service.  While recognizing an individual right to bear arms, the court also found that some regulations are permissible under the Second Amendment.

The court's ruling left mostly open the question of which regulations would be permissible and which would not.  Handgun bans would be out of the question, but the constitutionality of bans on assault weapons or large-capacity magazines remains open.  The justices Donald Trump appoints will play a decisive role in answering these questions.

Donald Trump will not only appoint Scalia's replacement, but likely appoint replacements for Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.  Kennedy is 80 years old and will probably choose to retire now that a Republican president will pick his replacement.  Clarence Thomas is only 68, but reports indicate he is interested in retiring.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83, but she clearly wants a Democrat president to appoint her replacement.  However, she may not be able to hold out for another four to eight years. Similarly, Stephen Breyer is 78 years old.  Trump could very well replace at least one of these justices, especially if he wins a second term.

Assuming Donald Trump makes conservative appointments, conservatives will have between a 5-4 and a 7-2 majority.  In other words, a conservative Supreme Court will determine the scope of the Second Amendment.

Unless the Supreme Court overturns the Heller decision, Australian-style gun control is probably impossible.  While the court may defer to the legislative branch, allowing a broad array of gun laws to stand, they would almost certainly reject the type of onerous licensing that defines the Australian system.  We may be witnessing the quiet death of the gun control movement.

For the most passionate advocates of gun control, the ultimate goal was never an assault weapons ban or universal background checks.  For them, the ultimate goal was a system that included very high barriers to gun ownership, along with major restrictions on the type of weapon one could own.  The overarching goal of such regulations would be to reduce the number of gun owners and the number of guns in private hands.  That dream may have just died.

Roe v. Wade didn't end the abortion debate, but it greatly limited the scope of possible legislation.  For practical purposes, our present abortion debate concerns late-term abortion, leaving the basic question of whether abortion should be legal at all untouched.  The gun control debate may be headed in a similar direction.