by Jeremy Leaming
Despite the reality that President Obama took no action during his first term to advance gun safety or sensible gun control measures, gun enthusiasts convinced themselves, with the help of right-wing pundits, that the president is not only a socialist but a budding tyrant preparing to confiscate gun owners’ arsenals from coast to coast. And this caricature has been a boon for gun manufacturers and sellers.
Over the weekend, The New York Times reported sales of guns, “which began climbing significantly after President Obama’s re-election,” have “soared” since the mass-shooting in Newtown, Conn., and the high-profile discussion of enacting gun safety regulations. An Iowa “independent gun dealer” told the newspaper, “If I had 1,000 AR-15s I could sell them in a week.”
And now that the president and other lawmakers, such as N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo, Md. Governor Martin O’Malley and Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper, are taking steps to enact gun control measures, gun enthusiasts are becoming louder, some hysterical and others going ballistic.
The National Rifle Association has been predictable and lame. The group blamed the arts, such as movies, for spurring gun violence and argued that more guns are the solution. In late December, the group’s Vice President Wayne LaPierre, said armed guards should be placed in the nation’s schools. James Yeager of a Tennessee company that apparently trains people to use weapons said in a YouTube video that if the president issued an executive order promoting gun safety that he would “start killing people.” Other chuckleheads have taken to the airwaves to threaten violence if the government were to take any action to curb gun violence.
What this period of discussion about the nation’s obsession with guns and how to take some measured steps to curb gun violence has exposed, in part, is that the gun lobby is growing tired and extremists are jumping into the fray. Many of these gun lovers believe that the Second Amendment is absolute. First, very few things in life are absolute and certainly there are very few if any rights provided by the Constitution that are absolute. For instance, the First Amendment does not protect all speech and expression. Political speech is provided more protection than commercial speech, speech advocating illegal conduct is not wholly protected under the First Amendment. What about the Fourth Amendment. We know that not all government searches are illegal. Indeed the Fourth Amendment has a lot of exceptions for police officers, acting in good faith and under certain circumstances, to conduct searches and seize property that many would argue are unconstitutional.
I could go on, but the point is that the Second Amendment does not forbid the regulation of guns. It is likely too much to ask of many of the rabid gun enthusiasts to read D.C. v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that held an individual does have the right to “keep and bear arms.”
For if they would read the entire opinion, those gun enthusiasts would find that gun control is not always trumped by the Second Amendment. Don’t take my word for it. University of Chicago law school professor and renowned constitutional law expert Geoffrey Stone recently wrote for The Huffington Post, that the high court in Heller “did not suggest that guns may not be regulated. To the contrary, in his opinion, Justice Scalia explained that, like other rights, ‘the right to secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited,’” and that “‘nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions’ on ‘carrying concealed weapons’ or ‘on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding 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.’”
In a press conference earlier today, reported by TPM, Obama said he would soon disclose the kinds of measures he will advocate for, including greater regulation of assault weapons, like the AR-15 and other such weapons that have the ability to rapidly fire numerous rounds of bullets. And the president tried to reassure gun owners that this has nothing to do with shredding the Second Amendment and confiscating guns. But he also noted that his assurances are unlikely to be heard.
“I think for some time now that those who oppose any common sense gun control or gun safety measures have a pretty effective way of ginning up fear on the part of gun owners, that somehow the federal government’s about to take all your guns away. And there’s probably an economic element to that. It obviously is good for business,” the president said.
Yes, the hysteria surrounding talk of gun control has been good for business and is likely why the president’s message will be distorted or drowned out. Gun sales are off the charts, and the nation’s top gun lobby says more guns are needed to curb violence.
But as New York lawmakers near a deal to enact what would be some of the toughest gun control measures, including more restrictions an assault weapons, supporters of gun control should keep fighting back. As Gov. Cuomo said recently in his State of the State address, we should “forget the extremists – it’s simple. No one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer. End the madness now.”