Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Major Victory For Gun Rights - In Obama's Home State

Civil rights are usually lost gradually - and when they are regained, they are regained gradually.  Such has been the case with the gun rights secured by the 2nd Amendment.  The latest ruling comes from President Obama's home state of Illinois - but before I get to that, a little background.  There have been several important gun rights cases in the last few years.

First, in Heller vs. DC(2008), the Supreme Court of the United States (hereafter abbreviated as SCOTUS)  found that the District's total ban on handguns and all other functional firearms violated the 2nd Amendment.  This case was carefully chosen.  The DC law was so unreasonable that even some gun control advocates believed that it went too far.  If any law violated the 2nd Amendment, it was this one.  In addition, since the District of Columbia is a Federal enclave, bringing the case there avoided the question of what lawyers call "incorporation".  Rights that are "incorporated" under the 14th Amendment restrict not only the Federal government, but state and local governments as well.  When SCOTUS, ruled that DCs ban on guns was unconstitutional, it was the greatest victory for gun rights in American history.

Next, the same lawyers took on an identical gun ban in Chicago (McDonald v. Chicago 2010).  The question in this case was simple: Does the right affirmed in Heller apply to state and local governments?  Is it "incorporated"?  SCOTUS ruled that indeed it does and it is.  This ruling opened the door for oppressive gun bans and other restrictions to be challenged.  In most cases, state and local governments have simply yielded and dropped their bans.

Both of these cases addressed the issue of gun rights in the home and business.  Gun control groups quickly began telling anyone who would listen that the 2nd Amendment only protected the right to have a gun in one's home or business.  Yet the 2nd Amendment secures not only the right to "keep" arms, but the right to "bear" (carry) them as well.  Since the state of Illinois is the only state in the Union with a total ban on average citizens carrying firearms, it was the natural target.  The NRA filed suit.  As expected, the district court followed existing case law and found against the NRA.  But the story was not over.  The NRA appealed.

Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that Illinois ban on carrying firearms is unconstitutional, Americans do indeed have a right to carry a gun.  Judge Richard Posner wrote, “One doesn’t have to be a historian to realize that a right to keep and bear arms for personal self-defense in the eighteenth century could not rationally have been limited to the home. . . .  Twenty-first century Illinois has no hostile Indians. But a Chicagoan is a good deal more likely to be attacked on a sidewalk than in his apartment on the 35th floor.”

What does this mean?  Well, Illinois is going to have to set up a permitting system to license citizens to carry firearms.  Before they do that, they are likely to appeal to SCOTUS - which has been looking for a "clean" case on this very issue.  They are very likely to take the case, and perhaps to hear it with other cases.  How will they rule?

First, and least likely, they could rule that there is no 2nd Amendment right outside the home.  The chance that they will rule this way - barring a change in the court's membership - is virtually zero.

Second, they may rule that states must issue carry permits to those who demonstrate a verified "need" to be armed.  This is known as "may issue", since qualified people may, or may not, be issued a permit. It is possible, but highly unlikely, that they will rule this way.

Third, they could rule that the 2nd Amendment right is as absolute as the 1st Amendment rights and rule that anyone able to legally own a gun may carry that gun outside the home.  This is not as crazy as it at first sounds, since this is the law in four states (VT, AK, AZ and WY).  Vermont has never required a permit to carry.  There is no evidence that these states have any more problems than those that require permits. It can therefore be argued that this proves a permit system isn't needed.  There is a slight chance that they will rule this way.

Fourth - and most likely - they may rule that states must issue permits to people who meet reasonable requirements.  This is known as a "shall issue" system and is the current law in 37 states.  Requirements such as a background check,  training in the law and use of force, firearms safety and range qualification are likely to be ruled "reasonable".  Much more than that would likely be considered "unreasonable" and therefore a violation of the 2nd Amendment.

We should know shortly if Illinois will appeal.  If they do, the court is likely to take the case and probably will hear it in the Spring of 2014 and issue a ruling in June of the same year.  If that happens, President Obama's home state will be the one that hands him yet another defeat for his gun control agenda.

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