Tragedy ignites gun control debate
The effort to pass gun control legislation in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy will confront the complication of two U.S. Supreme Court rulings that provide a broad scope for the right of Americans to possess guns.
Many politicians nationally are calling for a new look at gun control, such as restrictions on assault-type weapons, after the shooting Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School that cost the lives of 20 children and six adults. However, the Supreme Court twice ruled in the past four years that the government is limited under the Second Amendment on how it can restrict firearms.
Indeed, last Tuesday, three days before the Newtown shooting, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago invalidated the state of Illinois’ comprehensive ban on the concealed carry of firearms. The federal justices reversed a lower court ruling that had upheld Illinois’ long-standing ban against carrying concealed weapons.
“The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment therefore compels us to reverse the (lower court) decisions,” 7th Circuit Court Justice Richard Posner wrote in the opinion.
Rep. Mel Watt, D-12th, said the Supreme Court decisions on the Second Amendment make it more difficult to address gun control through legislation.
“It was already politically difficult. Now it is both politically difficult and constitutionally difficult,” Watt said.
The Supreme Court rulings don’t prevent any regulation of firearms, but narrow the scope of what Congress can address, he said.
“You have to be very careful in how you regulate. We can reasonably regulate speech under the First Amendment. But what is reasonable has been subject to a lot of interpretation,” Watt said.
Rep. Howard Coble, R-6th, said Monday that it’s too early to tell how the Newtown tragedy might change the climate for gun control on Capitol Hill.
“The first thing that comes to my mind is that states that have banned possession of firearms, traditionally the crime rate does not fall. As bad as the Connecticut tragedy is, once the dust settles, I just don’t see great changes in the law,” Coble told The High Point Enterprise.
Coble’s Chief of Staff Ed McDonald said the congressman’s constituents haven’t flooded his office with comments since the shooting unfolded Friday. During the weekend, Coble’s congressional office received less than half a dozen messages, and the focus of the callers has been on mental health issues more than gun control, McDonald said.
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The U.S. Supreme Court issued a pair of historic decisions on the breadth of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution during the past four years.
In 2008, the justices ruled in the gun control case of District of Columbia v. Heller. The Supreme Court struck down the District of Columbia’s ban on handgun possession, ruling for the first time in the nation’s history that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to own a gun. The court’s 5-4 decision determined that the intent of the Second Amendment was to secure the right of gun possession to individuals. The ruling invalidated the District of Columbia’s handgun ordinance, one of the strictest in the country. In addition to prohibiting ownership of handguns, the District of Columbia also required that shotguns and rifles be kept unloaded and disassembled or secured by a trigger lock.
In 2010, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in another gun control case, McDonald v. Chicago. Expanding on its District of Columbia decision, the justices extended nationwide the right to individual possession of firearms. The decision, again a 5-4 ruling, gives federal judges the power to invalidate state and local weapons laws for violating the Constitution. The justices ruled that Chicago went too far with ordinances that effectively banned possession of handguns in the home.