The moment that advocates of gun sanity long dreaded has finally arrived: The U.S. Supreme Court, with its newly stacked conservative majority, will consider arguments over the supposed right of wild-eyed zealots to walk around in public with a gun. At the heart of the debate is whether the Second Amendment’s guarantee that states may organize “well regulated” militias somehow applies to individuals.
That’s already the law in Missouri — the state has one of the nation’s highest gun-violence rates to show for it — and now the National Rifle Association and its ilk seek to bring Missouri-style carnage to every corner of America.
A Democratic Congress can’t stop the court’s likely support of such lunacy, but it can pass reasonable national standards, including a requirement for universal background checks, red-flag laws, and bans on the most dangerous classes of weapons. Those reforms are now doubly urgent.
The NRA has been relentless in its campaign to create an alternate history regarding guns and the myth that the Constitution somehow guarantees individual gun rights. Only a few decades ago, such notions were considered an exotic legal argument. It wasn’t until 2008 that a deeply divided Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment — which on its face merely provides states the right to maintain militias (i.e., the Missouri National Guard) — also allows individuals to keep firearms in their homes.
Allowing weapons at home for protection isn’t intrinsically unreasonable, but gun-safety advocates feared that declaring it a constitutional right would crack the door to more extreme arguments. And now it has.
The court has agreed to hear a challenge to New York’s conceal-carry law, which requires applicants to demonstrate a special self-defense need before being granted permits. In essence, the court is being asked to rule that the already-shaky argument of a constitutional right to gun ownership implies a right to carry in public.
St. Louis’ ongoing flood of gun deaths has been driven by the GOP-dominated state Legislature’s dogmatic refusal to let the city require permits and enforce other safeguards against guns on the streets. The case before the court promises to bring our city’s crisis to other states that have wisely sought to mitigate such violence. It’s not hard to figure out why Missouri consistently ranks in the top 10 states in gun violence rates, while New York ranks near the bottom.
The gun reforms proposed by the Biden administration and congressional Democrats would significantly reduce the potential impact of this case by ensuring that at least the newly empowered carriers of guns in public would have to show they aren’t criminals before getting their guns. They wouldn’t be able to buy the assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines favored by mass shooters. Democrats can’t fix the Supreme Court’s extreme rightward tilt anytime soon, so they must do what they can to limit the damage.