I surmise that Washington, Jefferson, really any of the founding fathers who established this country are about to hit the Earth's core from the constant spinning in their graves. It’s so cliché, but given that the United States Constitution has been morphed more than a pound of Play-Doh in a daycare center by a myriad of legislators and a plethora of judiciary choices—even from just the 20th Century alone—seems appropriate. Though we could cover at least a dozen or so amendments with these statements, it’s one of the most divisive in America that I’m going to focus on today: the Second Amendment.
Written By: Anton Sawyer
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To ensure there’s no confusion, I am not anti-gun. As I’ve written before, guns were a major reason why I am here today. They literally helped save my life when I was a child (you can read about that here). With that out of the way, when you look at the current issues surrounding gun control and gun owner’s rights, it’s surprising to most when you realize that in historical terms, America’s “gun mania” is a relatively recent happening. In all reality, the Constitution was written with the phrase “a well-regulated militia” for a very specific reason. The founding fathers knew the evil that men can do and didn’t want anyone and everyone to be carrying weapons, unless in wartime. For example, in the early days of North Carolina, the law forbade “going armed at night or day ‘in fairs, markets, nor in the presence of the King’s Justices, or other ministers, nor in no part elsewhere.’” This sentiment also carried over for several generations. In fact, in the 19th Century, Georgia and Tennessee outright banned the sale of weapons that could be concealed, like handguns. Most Supreme Court rulings over the years have held steadfast to that specific interpretation of guns being used by a militia. Some of the above reasons were mentioned in the 2012 case Kachalsky v. County Of Westchester in the ruling. Judge Richard Wesley wrote, “state regulation of the use of firearms in public was ‘enshrined with[in] the scope' of the Second Amendment when it was adopted,” and thus a licensing regime for people who want to carry firearms in public did not fall within the core of the Second Amendment. He also reaffirmed a lower-court ruling by stating “Outside the home, firearm rights have always been more limited, because public safety interests often outweigh individual interests in self-defense.” Keeping this in mind, one would think that with this lengthy history of establishing the precedent for judiciary now, and in the future, it’s pretty cut-and-dried. However, the Supreme Court has opted to listen to a case later in 2021 that goes right to the heart of the interpretation of the amendment with New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Corlett. There is a possibility that the Second Amendment could be damaged heartily, and not in the way Republicans would like you to believe. But let’s step back and see what lead to this specific SCOTUS case and what’s at stake.
Essentially, there were three court cases in New York state that are directly at the root of this hearing. The first is the Sullivan Act. Beginning in 1911, the act required someone who wishes to carry a handgun in public to show “proper cause” in order to obtain the concealment license. The second took place in 1980 with the case of Klenosky v. New York City Police Department. The outcome of this case modified the understanding of the law to where an applicant must “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community or of persons engaged in the same profession." At its core, it means you might be able to get a license because of a fear of a stalker (especially if you have demonstrated this person has violated some kind of protective order). But if you wanted one because you were convinced that wherever you are, a firefight is going to break out at a moment’s notice, then you will be declined. All of this has lead us to the year 2021 and our current case in which the justices announced that they only intend on resolving one, narrow question. “Whether the state’s denial of the petitioners’ applications for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense violated the Second Amendment.” If someone is denied this right by New York state law, is that preventing them from having access to bear arms? It seems like an absurd overreach. You can still get a gun, NOTHING in the case is going to take anything away or put some kind of restriction on those who can legally own a firearm already. Yet, as we have seen so many times when the legal system is involved, nothing is absolute.
To those who advocate for gun control, it’s a grim time. Not only is there a 6-3 conservative majority in the Supreme Court, but two rulings made by the SCOTUS in regards to the Second Amendment this century have fallen squarely into the realm of pro-gun rights. The first being District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008. The ruling did one big thing for gun owners by stating that in D.C., the area was covered by the Second Amendment to protect an individual’s right to bear arms. The NRA faithful though was stung by one key element to the ruling, however. Bans on “carrying concealed weapons” are lawful, as are “longstanding prohibitions 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,” or bans on “dangerous and unusual weapons.” The second ruling was in 2010 with McDonald v. City of Chicago. The one key provision from the outcome was that states, and not just the federal government, are bound by the Second Amendment’s restrictions on gun laws; whatever those restrictions might be. This has all brought us to 2021 and New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Corlett.
Depending on the way the ruling is written, it could completely gut the states' rights pertaining to guns and concealed-carry licenses. Given how much Republicans live for states' rights and their autonomy, you’d think they would be in support of upholding the law of said jurisdiction. You’d be wrong. Immediately upon realizing this case was put on the docket for the calendar year by the Supreme Court, the GOP has been in full combat mode. From your rights as a gun owner being trampled on by the “liberal elite,” to them conflating that ANY measure that could impact gun ownership in any way at all is akin to the utter destruction of the Second Amendment itself. That is how they are going to paint this picture until the ink on the ruling is dry in the history books.
I don’t want to catastrophize. I do not like being someone running around warning of gloom, doom, and danger. We as a country have seen how many millions of lives have been impacted by SCOTUS rulings this century. We’ve seen Obamacare pass, LGBTQ+ rights being acknowledged as human rights. We’ve seen Citizens United change the entire financial landscape of politics on every level, and not for the better. Whether generally positive, or negative, there are a lot of people who will be impacted by the dismantling of certain states' rights when it comes to guns and this Supreme Court hearing. Imagine for a moment where you live in a country that says if your state has elected to put any reasonable limit on someone concealing a weapon in public, not only is that violating their ability to get a weapon AT ALL, but the citizens of any given state don’t know as much as the federal government when it comes to what works for them locally. The thought of the government being in control of what each state does like Big Brother totally goes with the conservative “Don’t Tread On Me” way of life, doesn’t it?
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