STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Banning assault rifles would be constitutional

In the wake of the ...

Posted: Mar 4, 2018 7:15 AM
Updated: Mar 4, 2018 7:15 AM

In the wake of the mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students across the country have been extraordinarily vocal about the urgent need for common sense gun control. Their anger and frustration is not surprising. Indeed, there have already been 12 school shootings in this country this year, including the one at Central Michigan University on Friday, in which two people were killed after a gunman opened fire.

A recent CNN poll suggests that 70% of Americans generally support tougher gun laws. Perhaps people are finally tired of hearing about kids (and adults) being killed with military style assault weapons while they are in school or enjoying an outdoor concert. And now some corporations have joined the call for reasonable limits on the types of guns they sell, and to whom they sell them. In addition, several major companies have recently severed ties with the National Rifle Association.

Dick's Sporting Goods made headlines when it announced that it will immediately stop selling "assault-style rifles" and high-capacity magazines, and will not sell any firearm to someone under the age of 21. The company also issued a set of recommendations to address the problem of gun violence in this country.

The very first recommendation is to "Ban assault-style firearms." These firearms are the semi-automatic, military-style rifles that were used in several of the recent mass shootings. They are also the type of guns lawfully possessed by many people in this country for legitimate purposes like target shooting and self-protection.

Now, putting aside the difficult question of whether there is the political will to actually ban these guns, would such a ban be constitutional given the 2nd Amendment right to "keep and bear arms?"

The 2nd Amendment is not long. It reads "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

That's it. There is nothing in the text of this amendment about what types of guns people can have, how long someone may have to wait before buying one, or whether certain people shouldn't be allowed to have guns at all.

It was only 10 years ago that the 2nd Amendment was interpreted to protect an individual's right to possess a firearm for personal reasons. In District of Columbia v. Heller, a narrow conservative majority of the Supreme Court held, for the first time, that the 2nd Amendment protects a person's right to own a firearm for purely personal reasons like self-defense. Before Heller, most courts considered 2nd Amendment protections to be limited to the possession of firearms in connection with the need for militia service.

The late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion in Heller. In recognizing a personal constitutional right to possess a firearm in one's home for self-defense, he made clear that this right was not unlimited. He identified several types of restrictions that would be completely consistent with the right to keep and bear arms.

For example, Justice Scalia noted that the 2nd Amendment does not prohibit government from restricting felons or the "mentally ill" from having guns. He also acknowledged that laws designed to limit the possession of firearms in "sensitive places such as schools and government buildings" would be constitutional.

But what about laws that would ban an entire class of firearms? Can the government prevent everyone from possessing a particular type of firearm?

In the Heller case, Scalia suggested that there would be no constitutional problem with banning the possession of "dangerous and unusual" firearms. According to the Supreme Court's opinion in Heller, the 2nd Amendment only guarantees the right of a person to possess guns that are commonly used by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.

Of course, virtually none of the firearms sold today were available in 1789, and there were certainly no semi-automatic assault rifles like the one used in Parkland.

But the question is not whether such weapons were in common use two centuries ago, but whether they are commonly used by law-abiding people for lawful purposes today.

The NRA estimates that there are between 8.5 million and 15 million assault rifles owned by people living in the United States.

That number suggests that assault rifles are quite common. But that doesn't mean a government can't ban them. In fact, some cities and states already have. And while those laws have been challenged, none have been reversed by the Supreme Court.

Since Heller, the Supreme Court has rejected a number of cases challenging various restrictions on firearms. One dealt directly with a city's decision to prohibit someone from owning a semi-automatic rifle. Despite the clear constitutional issue presented by that case, the court passed on it.

Although that doesn't mean that the court would necessarily uphold the restriction, it does suggest that there were not enough votes to overturn the lower court's decision that upheld the law.

There is enough room under the 2nd Amendment to prevent people from possessing certain types of firearms. Even Justice Scalia recognized that laws restricting the possession of certain guns -- machine guns and short-barreled shotguns, for example -- would be constitutionally permissible. And Justice Scalia acknowledged that "weapons most useful in military service" may not be protected. Assault-style rifles may certainly fall into that category.

While banning semi-automatic assault rifles won't end all gun violence, it may save a few lives without significantly interfering with the rights of gun owners to use other firearms for recreation and self-protection. And that's something we can all live with.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 294994

Reported Deaths: 6681
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19672230
Hinds18799386
Harrison16710278
Rankin12685264
Jackson12592226
Lee9687160
Madison9457199
Jones7962146
Forrest7208136
Lauderdale6833226
Lowndes6022137
Lamar588080
Lafayette5733113
Washington5218130
Bolivar4609123
Oktibbeha441393
Panola430394
Pearl River4167130
Warren4129114
Pontotoc408869
Marshall403192
Monroe3989126
Union395374
Neshoba3807168
Lincoln3541102
Hancock347374
Leflore3375118
Sunflower318386
Tate302474
Pike300195
Scott293870
Alcorn291861
Itawamba289975
Yazoo289262
Tippah278765
Copiah277857
Coahoma277568
Simpson274878
Prentiss269758
Wayne253841
Marion252678
Leake252471
Covington248879
Grenada247377
Adams234377
George231745
Newton229652
Winston221675
Jasper213445
Tishomingo212365
Attala206569
Chickasaw201151
Holmes182270
Clay179150
Stone172429
Tallahatchie170539
Clarke169371
Calhoun157828
Smith152731
Yalobusha144836
Greene127633
Walthall124140
Noxubee122829
Montgomery122438
Perry121634
Lawrence120321
Carroll118225
Amite111533
Webster110630
Jefferson Davis101731
Tunica99023
Claiborne98429
Benton93324
Humphreys92827
Kemper90223
Quitman77114
Franklin76119
Choctaw69516
Jefferson62527
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 493769

Reported Deaths: 9931
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson710731374
Mobile36139727
Madison32425455
Tuscaloosa24184410
Montgomery22586500
Shelby21968215
Baldwin19758283
Lee14967153
Morgan13667251
Calhoun13300286
Etowah13184319
Marshall11262209
Houston10104261
Elmore9385185
Limestone9363134
Cullman8897181
St. Clair8827223
Lauderdale8607211
DeKalb8459175
Talladega7523163
Walker6524255
Jackson6495102
Autauga627091
Blount6102127
Colbert6004118
Coffee5249102
Dale4642107
Russell404930
Franklin399177
Covington3960106
Chilton3876100
Escambia377672
Tallapoosa3588142
Clarke343650
Chambers3413110
Dallas3403141
Pike293472
Lawrence283484
Marion281995
Winston246867
Bibb245060
Geneva239970
Marengo236455
Pickens224654
Barbour211651
Hale210568
Fayette200756
Butler196866
Henry182441
Cherokee177038
Monroe166139
Randolph163740
Washington156535
Crenshaw144854
Clay144454
Macon142043
Cleburne137839
Lamar132833
Lowndes131151
Wilcox121825
Bullock116936
Conecuh106724
Perry105627
Sumter98531
Coosa88923
Greene88232
Choctaw55123
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
42° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 37°
Columbus
Mostly Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 38°
Oxford
Partly Cloudy
41° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 36°
Starkville
Mostly Cloudy
41° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 35°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather