Monday, June 28, 2010

Relax and smell the gun smoke: Supreme Court rules that NRA was way too paranoid about Obama after all

The Supreme Court dealt a blow to the NRA today, striking down Chicago’s handgun ban while preserving the right of states and localities to enact “reasonable” gun control laws—and proving once and for all that the anti-gun boogeyman from which the organization derives its focus is a mirage.

Remember back in 2008 when gun sales spiked due to irrational fears that President Obama would soon ban guns? If the year-and-a-half of continuing gun-ownership and zero presidential rhetoric on the matter had not allayed such paranoia already, this decision should dispel any last fears of lurking liberals hell-bent on taking away people’s guns. For pragmatic liberals like the President, even if we’d like stricter gun laws, they’re simply not a priority; you can keep your guns as long as I can cap your carbon. And even if the President did have an agenda to ban guns, this decision is a reminder that he wouldn’t be able to.

Personally, I’m ambivalent on the whole matter. I’m inclined to agree with Justice Alito that the Second Amendment “limits (but by no means eliminates) [states and municipalities’] ability to devise solutions to social problems that suit local needs and values,” and that “[s]tate and local experimentation with reasonable firearms regulations will continue under the Second Amendment.” However, I’m skeptical that a ban on handguns is the best way to solve the social problem of urban violence. I’ve not seen any evidence that banning handguns actually keeps them out of the hands of the gangsters and thugs we worry about using them. In fact, it seems the ultimate example of going after the symptoms of the disease rather than causes. Better for liberals to focus our energy on alleviating the incentives to engage in violence (poverty, gangsta culture, and money to be earned from the drug trade) than the tools used to commit it.

So if you’ve been stocking up on guns and ammo since ’08, relax and save your money. We liberals aren’t trying to take your guns away, and even if we were, there are other branches of government to stop us.

UPDATE (6/29/10): A friend pointed out something I'd glossed over, which is that while the Court ultimately ruled against handgun restrictions, President Obama's nomination to the Court, Justice Sotomayor, ruled in favor of the ban, so it would be fair to assume that if the President had his way, handguns would be banned. Moreover, he argued, the President was for the handgun ban before he was against it, changing his mind after the Heller decision struck down D.C.'s handgun ban.

It's a fair point. While Obama himself would have a hard time restricting gun ownership, his Supreme Court nominations could certainly reduce the types of guns we're allowed to own (or at least they could have before this ruling).

That said, if it's true that the President changed his position on handgun bans, it indicates that pushing forward to tighten gun control isn't a policy priority for him. In other words, even if he believes in stricter gun control in an ideal world, it's not something he's willing to spend political capital pushing, given all the other priorities on his plate. Moreover, even if he were to push forward with a ban on handguns, that's a far cry from banning ALL guns. The rush to buy guns before they were "banned" is, and always was, based on unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

And in any case, the Supreme Court has now largely settled the issue, so even if the President did want to push hard for a handgun ban, or replaces conservative with pro-gun control Justices, the precedent has already been set. And the Supreme Court rarely overturns precedent.


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