In my debates with liberals on gun control, they often point out that the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, meaning that the government can and should place limits on it. Barack Obama actually said this in a debate with Hillary Clinton! In most cases, liberals make this statement after they concede that the right is individual, not collective, showing that you just can’t argue with the words of the founding fathers! But, in any case, I’ve heard all sorts of liberals argue as follows: “Of course the government should place restrictions on the right to bear arms. We don’t want individuals possessing nuclear weapons or anthrax, do we? Do you want people walking down the street with uzis?”
But does the pro-gun side think we should allow the private ownership of nuclear weapons, anthrax, or machine guns? NPR has a story that explains the position of Justice Antonin Scalia, the conservative Supreme Court justice who wrote the decision recognizing the right to bear arms as individual (see here):
“‘Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapons whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,’ Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority. But it did allow for individuals to have guns for lawful purposes, such as hunting and defending themselves, he said. The majority clearly saw the individual right to own a gun…
“Scalia said nothing in Thursday’s ruling should ‘cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.'”
And so Justice Antonin Scalia believes that the Second Amendment has its limits. Of course, the question is what those limits can be now that we have this new decision. But I think it’s obvious that the District of Columbia was violating the Consitution. The Second Amendment says the people have the right to keep and bear arms. The District of Columbia banned residents from owning handguns. How much more egregious can you get?
But does the National Rifle Association view the Second Amendment as absolute? It’s against the assault weapons ban, right? Here are some quotes from its fact sheet, “Assault Weapons” & Semi-Autos:
“Semi-automatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns are also used for protection…Handguns are the type of gun most often used for protection, and about three-fourths of new handguns sold today are semi-automatic…
“Contrary to the claims of ‘gun control’ groups, semi-autos don’t ‘spray fire’ and are not ‘easy to convert’ into machine guns. Easily convertible guns are prohibited by federal law and conversion is a federal felony punishable by 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine…
“The Clinton Gun Ban’s 10-round magazine limit interferes with the right to self-defense. Police officers use standard-size magazines for good reason–their protection. Other citizens also have the right to defend themselves, and a magazine-capacity limit puts them at a disadvantage when defending themselves.”
Apparently, the NRA doesn’t treat the Second Amendment as unlimited, for I didn’t see it argue against the law that bans the conversion of a gun into a machine gun. So it must believe that individuals should not own machine guns. What concerns the NRA is this: Does the ban on semi-automatics severely limit the right and the ability of people to protect themselves? And its conclusion is, “Yes, it does.” Many handguns sold today are semi-automatic, meaning that the ban on “assault weapons” is not a prohibition on machine guns, but on many of the regular guns that you’d find in stores. And cops see a need to carry semi-automatic weapons for self-defense. So aren’t we leaving people somewhat defenseless when we deprive them of that opportunity?
The Second Amendment is not unlimited, but it does recognize the right of individuals to protect themselves. The question is which gun control laws inhibit people from exercising this right. Those are the laws that violate the Second Amendment.