Reaction to DC v Heller

The Supreme Court today ruled the District of Columbia gun ban unconstitutional, unambiguously embracing an ‘individual right’ interpretation of the 2nd Amendment after decades (centuries, actually) of ambiguous decisions on the matter.

Those of you who have only read my recent posts on politics might assume that I’m anti-gun and disheartened by this development. In fact, I’ve long believed that a (limited) right to own and use guns should be an individual right. When trying to divine the ‘original intent’ of the authors of the Constitution there is evidence to support both sides of the argument (one thing we must remember is that there was more than one framer of the Constitution and they didn’t all have one mind). I choose to believe that the individual right interpretation is better.

Many gun control advocates accurately portray their motivations as trying to reduce gun violence. I say “accurately” because I believe that their motivations are in fact to reduce gun violence (right-wingers’ allusions to Nazi Germany notwithstanding). One commentator at RealClearPolitics succinctly expresses this viewpoint:

In his intemperate dissent in the court’s recent Guantanamo decision, Scalia said the defense of constitutional rights embodied in that ruling meant it “will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.” That consideration apparently does not apply to a law whose precise purpose was to reduce the number of murders in the District of Columbia.
E. J. Dionne – Originalism Goes Out the Window

First of all, it’s important to know that DC’s gun ban was the strictest ban in the nation. Handguns were banned outright, while long guns (rifles and shotguns) could be kept in the home only unloaded with a trigger lock (and perhaps, I’ve heard, partially disassembled). This implies that any firearm legally stored in DC (aside from those owned prior to when the 1976 ban went into effect) was useless for the purposes of security.

For the record, I disagreed with Scalia’s dissent in the Guantanamo decision, and in general I think he’s a douche. However, notice Dionne’s operative word here… “a law whose precise purpose was to reduce the number of murders…” Is purpose enough to justify a complete ban on firearms, though?

I’ve never been in DC longer than it takes to change flights (a couple hours in my case), but my understanding is that, despite the aforementioned total ban on handguns and practically total ban on other firearms, gun violence is still quite a problem in DC. A lot of this, no doubt, has to do with easy access to guns in the surrounding states such as Virginia. Nevertheless, this is a perfect example of what gun rights advocates are talking about when they argue that “if you make gun ownership criminal, the only people to own guns will be criminals”. Strangely, it seems the gun-wielding criminals in DC have decided not to adhere to the gun law there.

To Dionne’s point, I looked up some statistics on DC’s murder rate. Here is a chart I drew up based on data from here:

District of Columbia Murders Per 100,000 Inhabitants

This graph shows the number of murders over time in DC per 100,000 inhabitants. The DC gun ban just overturned started in 1976. The murder rate in DC certainly seems to have decreased since its heyday in the 90s, but if anything can be concluded about the effect of the gun ban, it must be that it had little if any effect at all. The murder rate shot up astronomically and dropped down slightly less precipitously all while the same ban was in effect.

In fact, this is pretty much the conclusion at which ‘gun policy expert’ Jens Ludwig arrives in this Talk of the Nation show from last week.

I don’t intend to delve into a lengthy constitutional discussion on the matter… if you want that, go read the 160 page Supreme Court opinion. My question- if strict gun bans like those in DC have little impact on the murder rate, and if there is at least some reason to believe that the Constitution protects a right of individuals to possess (and bear, as necessary) firearms, why maintain such a strong position against private gun ownership? Do the likes of E. J. Dione really have to believe that DC v. Heller was decided solely on the partisan politics of Antonin Scalia in order to make sense out of the ruling?

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1 Response to Reaction to DC v Heller

  1. Pingback: Reaction to DC v Heller | matunos | U.S. Justice Talk

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