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Pro: Constitution clearly shows right-to-bear-arms applies only to militia

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Kristen Rand
December 17, 2007
EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is addressing the question, “Should the Supreme Court uphold the District of Columbia’s gun-control law?”

Sometime next year, the Supreme Court will decide whether the District of Columbia’s 30-year-old handgun ban is constitutional under the Second Amendment. The court should uphold the District’s law banning handgun possession by its residents for both constitutional and public safety reasons.


The overwhelming historical evidence and weight of judicial precedent support the position that the Second Amendment was intended and designed to protect a militia-based right.


The amendment protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms only within the context of the constitutionally mandated militia, thus guaranteeing states armed militias to provide for their own security.


There is also strong scholarship to support the argument that James Madison wrote the amendment primarily to allay southern fears that Congress would undermine the slave system by disarming the militia—thereby denying the southern states an effective means of slave control. Under this longstanding interpretation of the amendment, the District’s handgun ban would survive.


The second reason the court should uphold the District’s handgun ban is that it has saved countless lives and repealing it will certainly result in increased gun death and injury.


Few know that Washington has the lowest suicide rate in the nation. With guns in only 5 percent of its homes, the District has not only the lowest firearm suicide rate in the country but also the lowest overall suicide rate.


Nevertheless, in a nation that loses nearly 30,000 citizens a year to gun violence, with hundreds of thousands more wounded, the District, like other jurisdictions with tough gun laws, is still held hostage by states with much weaker laws.


In 2006, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the majority of guns traced to crime in D.C. came from Maryland and Virginia. North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia also supplied significant numbers of illegally trafficked crime guns, usually handguns. None of these states’ gun laws come close to the District’s stringent regulations, which also ban assault weapons and tightly control ammunition.


Instead of facing repeal, D.C.’s laws should be a model for the nation. How is it possible to think that Americans are free when they must fear being gunned down at their local mall, church, school or workplace because most of the United States refuses to implement effective gun laws?


The most recent installment of “I can’t believe it could happen here” saw innocent holiday shoppers running for cover when a troubled teenager opened fire with an AK-47 assault rifle in an Omaha, Neb., shopping mall, killing eight and wounding five.


A few days later, a heavily armed man used an assault rifle to kill four people at a missionary training center and a church in Colorado. Authorities said he had nearly 1,000 rounds of ammunition and signaled his intention to kill more.


Proof that strong gun laws work is found in Great Britain and Australia. In response to a mass shooting of 16 schoolchildren and their teacher in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996, Great Britain enacted a handgun ban not unlike the District’s.


Since the ban’s implementation, Great Britain has not experienced another mass shooting. Moreover, the British Home Office reports that “there were 50 homicides involving firearms in 2005-06, down 36 percent from 78 on the previous year and the lowest recorded since 1998-99.”


Likewise, after 112 people were killed in 11 mass shootings in a decade, Australia collected and destroyed 700,000 firearms determined to be designed to kill many people quickly. Australia has not seen another mass shooting, while its firearm homicide and firearm suicide rates have declined.


The Supreme Court should uphold the District’s landmark gun law. It is hard to fathom that the Founders intended the Second Amendment to prohibit the implementation of laws that work to “ensure domestic tranquility” and “promote the general welfare,” two chief purposes for which the Constitution was conceived.


Kristen Rand is the legislative director of the Violence Policy Center (www.vpc.org). Readers may write to her at VPC, 1730 Rhode Island Ave. NW, Suite 1014, Washington, D.C. 20036.

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