Recently in Gun Control Category

July 23, 2009

Guns and Drive Thrus: Two Modern American Ills

A tragic story took place in Las Vegas, Nevada but could have happened anywhere in the U.S.  According to news reports, Alex Kopystenski was in his car in the drive-thru lane of a Walgreens drugstore with his 5 year-old son Giovanni in the back seat.  Giovanni found a gun, played with it, and accidentally shot himself.  Giovanni died and his father has been charged with child endangerment. Amazingly, the father was released from jail after posting bail of only $3,000

The sad story illustrates two ills plaguing our country. One is the proliferation of guns.  Their prevalence ensures that some guns will find their way into the hands of irresponsible people like Kopystenski, meaning that tragedies like this will continue to occur.

The second ill, which admittedly pales by comparison, is the spread of drive-thrus. Perhaps as a result of an increasingly overweight population, people don't have to bother to use their legs to pick up double cheeseburgers or a few items from a drugstore.  If this father had parked and taken his son into the store, this story might never have been told.

July 8, 2009

Assault Weapons and the Second Amendment

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In the Heller case (2008), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protected an individual's right to carry weapons.  Thankfully, it appears that state and local governments still have the power to outlaw especially dangerous weapons.  We won't be seeing people carrying cannons or machine guns down our streets with impunity anytime soon!

In a 2009 California case, People v. James (PDF), Michael E. James was convicted of violating a law (Penal Code 12276) that makes it a crime to possess a variety of assault and military-type weapons. Among the prohibited weapons are the familiar Uzi and something called a "Streetsweeper," which I'd never heard of but sounds incredibly ominous.   

The court in James upheld the conviction.  The judges ruled that the Second Amendment protects only a person's right to own "guns in common use by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes" like hunting or self-defense.  As in other areas, individual rights must be balanced against society's rights.  Chalk up an important win for society.

June 17, 2009

A Second Review for the Second Amendment

In its 2008 Heller decision, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Second Amendment gives individuals a personal right to keep and bear arms.  But Heller didn't decide whether the Second Amendment affects state and local gun control laws, and lower court decisions decided since Heller have reached conflicting results.  Thus, look for the U.S. Supreme Court to issue another major gun control ruling later this year or in 2010.

You'd think that the issue would trouble political conservatives, including those who are Supreme Court justices.  They are generally for states' rights, meaning that they support the power of states and localities to determine policies for themselves.  But most are also for gun rights, and a decision that the Second Amendment applies to the state and local governments would impinge on their ability to determine gun control policies for themselves. 

I'm guessing that the conservative justices' antipathy to gun control will outweigh their mantra that States Know Best.  Look for a decision that the Second Amendment applies to all gun control laws.  Such a decision would guarantee lots of future court activity, as judges will be called upon to decide which gun control laws the Second Amendment allows.

March 9, 2009

Firearms Restrictions for Domestic Abusers

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In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation of the Sixth Amendment has made it more difficult to convict perpetrators of domestic violence, and its interpretation of the Second Amendment has made it more difficult for communities to enact gun control legislation -- thus the Court's forgiving interpretation of a federal gun control law that made it a crime for perpetrators of domestic violence to carry a gun came as something of a surprise.

In United States v. Hayes (2009), the Court reviewed a law (18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9)) that made it a federal crime for people who had been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence to own a gun.  Hayes was convicted of violating this law; he owned a few guns, and 10 years earlier had been convicted of misdemeanor battery.  The woman that Hayes had attacked was his then-wife -- however, his conviction was for "simple battery."  Hayes argued that he did not violate Sec. 922(g)(9) because he had been convicted only of battery, not of domestic violence.

The Court admitted that Sec. 922(g)(9) was badly drafted. If you enjoy reading about semi-colons, you might enjoy reading the Hayes opinion in its entirety (PDF).  At the end of the day, however, the Court evidently thought it a dangerous precedent to hold Congress to the same writing standards as first-year law students.  The Court interpreted Sec. 922(g)(9) to apply to ownership of guns by people whose previous convictions were based on acts of domestic violence, regardless of whether they were convicted specifically of domestic violence.  Since Hayes' victim was his then-wife, he could be properly convicted of violating Sec. 922(g)(9). Thus, Hayes is one of the few recent Supreme Court decisions to bring some cheer to those who think the country ought to do more to reduce gun and domestic violence.