Guns, Politics and the Law
April 21, 2007
That the Virginia Tech massacre did not occasion a widespread round of political hand-wringing over gun control is, as one newspaper put it, a silent testimony to how far the gun-control debate has shifted in the past decade and a half.
Yes, the usual suspects have attempted to use the murder spree on campus as evidence of the danger of guns in America. But as unlikely a combination of leaders from Harry Reid to George Bush has been as one in warning we should avoid a "rush to judgment" in the wake of the killings.
That's progress of a sort, even if the Democrats' abandonment of the issue flows more from political calculation than principle. Political calculation, after all, is based on something beyond mere politics. The Democratic Party may have decided that gun control became a political liability in the 1994 and 2000 elections, but that doesn't go far toward explaining why that is so.
First, as we noted earlier this week, what happened in Blacksburg was evidence more than anything of the fact that there are sick and evil people in the world willing to do harm to others for no earthly reason. Pushing much beyond that point is political opportunism.
But over the past decade and a half, evidence of another sort has been accumulating. Violent-crime rates peaked in 1991, according to the Justice Department, and have fallen steeply since. Over the same period, gun-control laws in many states have been relaxed. Correlation does not equal causation, but it does make it difficult to argue that greater legal access to guns drives up levels of violent crime.
Whether concealed-carry laws and the like have held down crime rates remains a hotly debated subject. Certainly, more aggressive and effective policing, especially in big cities, has been a major force in driving down crime. One irony of this is that law-enforcement types have long been a major pro-gun-control force, even though it would seem that how their job is defined and performed has much more to do with crime levels than whether guns are available legally.
When violent-crime rates were rising, as they did steadily from the mid-1960s through the 1980s, it was easy to get political traction with calls to "do something" about gun control. This was true whether legally available guns had anything to do with those crime rates. But with crime rates falling even as legal gun access expanded, the argument has lost much of its plausibility, and so its force.
Which isn't to say no one makes the argument any more. The nearly uniform reaction in Europe to the Virginia Tech shootings has been to pin it on America's gun culture. Related to this is the charge that America is prevented from taking sensible steps to prevent gun violence by the invidious influence of groups such as the National Rifle Association. Quite apart from the fact that this implies American politicians and voters alike are dupes of the "gun lobby," it ignores the evidence, noted above, that violent crime and legal gun access either have nothing to do with one another or are, if anything, inversely correlated.
As this political debate evolves, it appears that the Supreme Court may finally get a case in which to weigh in on the Constitutional question of the right to bear arms. Last month, Judge Laurence Silberman on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of plaintiffs who claimed that their Second Amendment rights were violated by Washington's strict gun-control laws. The Supreme Court has not heard a Second Amendment case in decades, but federal appeals courts have generally taken a very restricted view of citizens' rights under the Second Amendment. The D.C. Circuit's 2-1 decision sets up a direct conflict with other circuits, and could wind up at the Supreme Court.
This could be a defining moment for gun control, as Judge Silberman's ruling unequivocally declares that "the right to keep and bear arms" under the Second Amendment belongs to individuals and not, as some have argued, only to National Guardsmen or members of government-organized "militias." "The phrase 'the right of the people,'" Judge Silberman wrote, ". . . leads us to conclude that the right in question is individual." He added: "The wording . . . also indicates that the right to keep and bear arms was not created by government, but rather preserved by it." In all, the decision is as clear a statement of the right to keep and bear arms as one could want. The mayor of D.C. has requested a rehearing of the case by the full D.C. Circuit. If that is denied, or if the full court sides with Judge Silberman, the next stop would be the Supremes.
A Supreme Court decision on what the Second Amendment means could transform the gun-control debate in this country. For now, the relatively muted political response to the Virginia Tech killings may be taken as a sign that, on this issue at least, our politics have become a little less reactive and a little more rational.
Sounds like a very well thought-out article and very much a truthful observation of the current political climate as it pertains to guns and gun laws.
The current VT shooting is being seen much more as what it is, a demonstration that "gun-free" zones only invite higher body counts when evil comes to call, and that the unarmed are transformed into the easily doomed when stripped of their inherent right to defend themselves.
As far as the Supreme court goes, I think they will have to tread softly on the second amendment, because a world of shit could get started if they deem it a "collective" right rather than an individual one. That would be the equivalent of the baloon going up for many people, and the start of a general insurrection for others.
But I'm an asshole, so don't take my word for it.
WSJ is one of the few remaining unbiased newspapers.
They aren't really all that pro-gun, and they are definitely PRO-North American Union (Nafta).