Gun activists thought they found the Holy Grail in 2008 when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual’s right to own a firearm unconnected to military service. The court followed with McDonald v. Chicago, holding that the amendment applies not just to gun control laws passed by Congress, but also to local and state laws.
Gun activists spotted their green light to challenge gun restrictions across the country and unleashed a deluge of new lawsuits. The unexpected happened. They’re losing in the lower courts. The anti-gun Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence sings praises of the victories.
Three years and more than 400 legal challenges later, lower courts hold the Supreme Court’s ruling in Heller is “narrow and limited.”
The Second Amendment does not interfere with people’s right to enact legislation protecting families and communities from gun violence, the Brady Center says in a report titled “Hollow Victory.” Lower courts continue to rule that the Second Amendment does not apply beyond the threshold of one’s home.
Specifically, the Heller plaintiffs’ claims were narrowly about self-defense in the home. As Maryland’s Court of Appeals put it: “If the Supreme Court … meant its holding to extend beyond home possession, it will need to say so more plainly.”
Judge J. Harvey Wilkinson III, a conservative stalwart on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, criticized the Heller decision as judicial activism. “This is serious business,” Wilkinson wrote. “We do not wish to be even minutely responsible for some unspeakably tragic act of mayhem because in the peace of our judicial chambers we miscalculated as to Second Amendment rights.”
Once again, court decisions leave ambiguity on both sides in the gun rights debate.
Jerry W. Doyle
retired federal employee