Although the U.S. Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear a case about banning guns in the District of Columbia, will be forced to rule on the lofty matter of the Second Amendment, I think in humbler terms: Is a gun ban good for the regular citizen?
The case the Supreme Court will hear grew out of a 1976 ban on guns that is one of the most extensive in the country, in essence prohibiting citizens from owning a functioning firearm. It was upheld in one court challenge but in March the Court of Appeals for The District of Columbia overturned it. Mayor Adrian Fenty subsequently decided to appeal to the Supreme Court. The fate of gun ownership around the country will be affected by what the Court decides.
I don’t like guns. Coming from a part of the country where men (and sporting women, too) do bear arms, mostly to kill turkeys, deer, duck, and other innocent creatures, I’ve heard about terrible hunting accidents all my life. It is therefore not entirely with pleasure that I find myself arguing that having a gun in the house can promote safety.
The problem with banning guns is that such bans affect only law-abiding citizens. Your average criminal isn’t going to think, “Drat, I can’t get a gun now.” He isn’t going to think this because he has never limited himself to legal routes to gun ownership in the first place. The gun ban is irrelevant to him, except that he might be safer trespassing on the property of others-a definite plus, when you come to think about it.
“Killers who are not deterred by laws against murder are not going to be deterred by laws against guns,” writes Robert A. Levy, co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the case that is now before the Supreme Court. Levy noted the situation of Shelly Parker, one of the plaintiffs, who lived in a high-crime neighborhood in Washington. A crime fighter, Ms. Parker was taunted and threatened by drug dealers but she nevertheless organized block meetings to enlist others in the fight against crime.
Trying to get into her house, a dealer yelled, “I’ll kill you. I live on this block, too!” “For obvious reasons,” Levy writes, “Shelly Parker would like to possess a functional handgun within her home for self-defense; but she feared arrest and prosecution because of the District’s unconstitutional gun ban.” Let me go out on a limb and posit that the gun dealers in Mrs. Parker’s neighborhood weren’t nearly so scrupulous.
Proponents of banning guns claim that such laws will reduce crime (they can’t just say they hate guns and hunters, can they?). But, according to statistics presented by John Lott, author of the book “More Guns, Less Crime,” in Congressional testimony two years ago, the District of Columbia has seen a rise in crime since the ban went into effect. The homicide rate was declining in late 1976, before the ban, from 37 to 27 in 100,000. In the next five years, it rose to 35. “While crime rates have fluctuated over time, the murder rate after 1976 has only once fallen below what it was in 1976,” Lott said.
Former Manhattan Assistant District Attorney David B. Kopel, now practicing law in Colorado, argues in a Cato Institute paper that gun bans are elitist. “Gun control,” he wrote, “is based on the faulty notion that ordinary American citizens are too clumsy and ill-tempered to be trusted with weapons. Only through the blatant abrogation of explicit constitutional rights is gun control even possible. It must be enforced with such violations of individual rights as intrusive search and seizure. It most severely victimizes those who most need weapons for self-defense, such as blacks and women.”
When the Supreme Court decides the issue, it is the wording of the Second Amendment that they will consider. 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.” Does this give individuals the right to protect themselves with arms, or is a narrow reading in order?
I realize that the Court has to rule on the law. While I certainly hope they find that law-abiding citizens have the right to bear arms, I don’t think of it that way. Here’s the question for me: Who would you prefer to own a gun: crime-fighting Mrs. Parker or the drug dealers among whom she has lived?