Americans frustrated by congressional inaction on gun control should be emboldened by Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision. It essentially gives them the go-ahead to seek tighter gun restrictions at the state and local level.
The high court decided 7-2 to let stand an Illinois city’s law banning semi-automatic rifles with large-capacity magazines. The ban includes the AR-15 rifle, the weapon chosen byn mass killers to mow down 14 people in San Bernardino, nine at Umpqua Community College, 12 at the Colorado movie theater and 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The National Rifle Association had challenged the law in Highland Park, Illinois, and the case was being watched with interest elsewhere in the United States. Similar bans in the District of Columbia, New York City and seven states could have been in danger had the court ruled against the city.
The court made the right decision in allowing a common-sense local gun law to stand. No constitutional right is absolute, after all. The First Amendment doesn’t give people the right to make child porn. We are poked and scanned at airports despite the Fourth Amendment.
Even Second Amendment gun rights have been regulated. When’s the last time you saw someone walking down the street shouldering a rocket launcher or carrying a machine gun?
The question wasn’t whether weapons could be regulated; that’s already been established. Ideally, Congress would enact sensible nationwide gun laws, which might include restrictions on high-capacity magazines, universal background checks for gun purchases, waiting periods, gun-storage requirements, and warrants to impound weapons in cases where a person has suffered a mental breakdown or been the subject of a protection order.
But don’t hold your breath. Congress – and most state legislatures – have shown little inclination to stand up to the powerful gun lobby. Congress has even effectively prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting research on gun violence by denying funding for that purpose since 1997.
In Washington, citizens took matters into their own hands after it became clear that state legislators weren’t going to pass sensible background check requirements. In 2014, voters resoundingly passed Initiative 594, which requires background checks on all gun sales, including private ones. I-594 closed the so-called “gun show loophole” that allows too many people to buy guns who otherwise might not be able to pass the background check required by federally licensed dealers.
Of course, tougher gun laws at the local level aren’t the answer to the gun violence that shames this country; too many guns are already in circulation – more than one for every man, woman and child in the U.S. But doing nothing isn’t much of an answer either. Communities should consider taking steps that can start making it harder for the wrong people to so easily acquire almost any kind of gun.