My previous posts on the Supreme Court overturning the D.C. gun ban stirred up more debate than I expected, second amendment rights being pretty far outside the realm of issues I usually cover. (Interestingly enough, it’s sparked quite a discussion over at Bilerico, which focuses mainly on LGBT-related issues.) So, why not continue? Especially since some people have come forward and answered the question I asked at the end of the last post.
I don’t pretend to know, and the suggestions above are nearly ridiculous (but in one case, very real) extremes. So, I’ll ask the same question I asked before that I don’t remember being answered: to gun rights advocates, what would you consider to be “reasonable” gun laws?
Well. When I saw this story, I wanted to add it to the mix. After all, states are already dealing with the question of whether felons should have the right to vote. It may not be the intention of the court, or the intention of the people who filed the suit to overturn D.C.’s gun law, but now felons are suing for the right to own firearms.
Twice convicted of felonies, James Francis Barton Jr. faces charges of violating a federal law barring felons from owning guns after police found seven pistols, three shotguns and five rifles at his home south of Pittsburgh.
As a defense, Barton and several other defendants in federal gun cases argue that last month’s Supreme Court ruling allows them to keep loaded handguns at home for self-defense.
“Felons, such as Barton, have the need and the right to protect themselves and their families by keeping firearms in their home,” says David Chontos, Barton’s court-appointed lawyer.
Chontos and other criminal defense lawyers say the high court’s decision means federal laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of people convicted of felonies and crimes of domestic violence are unconstitutional as long as the weapons are needed for self-defense.
Now, I’m not sure how right Mr. Chrontos is about this. And I’m reluctant to wade into the legal issues here, because I’ll quickly find myself out of my depth. But this Wall Street Journal column—by an author who seems to be in favor of the ruling — quotes Justice Scalia as saying the ruling shouldn’t “cast doubt” on state laws regarding felons and firearms.
One key unresolved question in D.C. v. Heller is whether it limits the states as well as the federal government. The Bill of Rights originally restrained only Congress, but under the “incorporation” doctrine, the Supreme Court has held that the 14th Amendment protects most constitutional rights against state encroachment. Because the capital is a federal district, its local government is a creation of the U.S. Congress. Heller gave no reason to think incorporation doesn’t apply, but further litigation will be necessary to settle the question.
Nor does Heller settle which restrictions are constitutional and which are not. Justice Scalia wrote that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt” on laws against possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill or in “sensitive places” like schools or government buildings, or laws regulating commerce in firearms. That’s fine with Mr. Gura, but many laws currently on the books fall somewhere between these uncontroversial provisions and D.C.’s onerous restrictions.
And so, the author is right. Further litigation will be necessary.
So, my question is, who’s right? Scalia or Chontos? And if it’s somewhere in the middle? What’s reasonable?
[Photo via jhounshell.]