When is a constitutional right not absolute? When is it best left to the discretion of politicians and their appointees to decide? Well, to paraphrase a well-worn expression, it depends what the meaning of “shall” is. Or the meaning of “may.”
Petty tyrants are seldom depicted in the popular culture as big city political bosses hell bent on denying the fundamental rights of those they rule, but it is often the case, and this week one such official got a smackdown from a federal judge.
First, some context. In 1987, Florida led what was to become a nationwide revolution. At that time and with few exceptions, ordinary people who wished to carry a firearm outside their home could only do so with government permission. The laws in most states were “may issue” laws – meaning the granting authorities had the power to indiscriminately grant or deny permission to carry to anyone. Those who were denied at that time had no recourse because the issuing authorities were acting within the bounds of the law, and courts had not recognized firearms ownership, much less carrying, as a fundamental right.
Floridians, led by future NRA President Marion Hammer demanded that the decision on whether they would be allowed to carry guns be taken out of the often arbitrary and capricious hands of bureaucrats and politicians. They won that battle in 1987, starting a wave of “shall issue” laws passed throughout America. Shall issue makes firearm carrying akin to a driver’s’ license. You show up with the appropriate evidence of identity, and after demonstrating basic competence and paying a fee, you receive the permission. As it should be.
Shall issue became the law in most places, but not all. The DC political establishment has done everything in its power to make sure that the only people besides the police who have guns in the District are those who don’t care about the law, or even flout it. The Heller decision and its legacy should have meant, was supposed to mean, that any American had the fundamental right to bear arms. But instead of waving the white flag of defeat, the leftists who run the local government in our nation’s capitol have continued fighting like some Imperial Japanese Army holdout on a forgotten Pacific atoll fighting WWII into the 1960’s.
Alan Gura, the lead attorney in the Heller case, has been the strongest of defenders of the precedent his case set. He keeps suing DC to press for the rights under Heller to be recognized, and DC keeps trying to keep the citizenry disarmed. But this week, Gura scored a big win for his client, the Second Amendment Foundation. A federal judge ruled that the District’s requirement that applicants for concealed carry permits demonstrate a “good reason” likely violates the constitutional rights of those applicants.
DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier, no champion of second amendment guarantees, had been granted the power to deny applicants who in her view failed to demonstrate “a special need for self-protection distinguishable from the general community.” But Judge Scullin granted an injunction against the city so they may not legally discriminate against people who couldn’t convince the Chief they deserved special permission to carry.
Let’s recall that by her actions, Chief Lanier evidently believes celebrities like David Gregory should not be punished when they knowingly violate District firearms laws, but innocent veterans who mistakenly violate the odd and restrictive DC laws should have the book thrown at them.
But deplorable as that is, it is not even the crux of the issue.. DC has had the highest rate of firearm murders in the country, and thus even more important is the undeniable effect of heavy gun control, both when guns were banned by DC in 1976, and then effectively reversed by the Heller decision in 2008:
The gun ban had an unintended effect: It emboldened criminals because they knew that law-abiding District residents were unarmed and powerless to defend themselves. Violent crime increased after the law was enacted, with homicides rising to 369 in 1988, from 188 in 1976 when the ban started. By 1993, annual homicides had reached 454.
Since the gun ban was struck down, murders in the District have steadily gone down, from 186 in 2008 to 88 in 2012, the lowest number since the law was enacted in 1976.
A simple realization of human nature allows one to reach the rather basic conclusion that…yes, if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. Like most statist utopias, DC celebrates diversity as its most noble ambition but refuses to extend that diversity to those who simply choose to exercise their right to self-defense, no matter the growing volume of data proving that gun control is not only ineffective but dangerous. Until they do, and quit with the notion that a political appointee should be given the power to pick and choose who is and is not allowed to exercise a constitutional right, we should all be thankful for civil rights lawyers and federal judges who see to it that they cannot trample over the rights they choose to ignore.