All across our nation the debate over Second Amendment rights continues. Should the right to bear arms be limited? If so, in what ways? Passionate groups on both sides of the issue are making their cases in private conversation, in print, and in public forums.
The Senate is in the middle of a spirited debate over gun control and background checks. The latest news updates indicate that the measure appears to not have the 60 votes it needs to pass in the Senate. It is all but certain to fail in the House. So, fueled by the emotion of the tragic Sandy Hook shootings, the largest push in the last 20 years on gun control appears to have come up short.
There is a minor provision in a compromise bill that is stirring up veterans groups working to return gun rights to former service members who’ve been barred from owning firearms. According to officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs, if a veteran is appointed a fiduciary (someone to handle their VA benefits for being deemed incapable of handling his own finances) he is also defined by the department as “mentally defective” and banned from owning a firearm.
The background check compromise bill drafted by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., includes a provision that would expand the Second Amendment rights of veterans to purchase firearms. The bill would close a loophole banning military personnel from buying guns in their home states and give veterans a chance to clear their names out of NICs.As of July 2012, an estimated 129,000 veterans had been entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System by the VA. Under the current system, a veteran assigned a fiduciary to handle his military benefits is entered into the background check system as someone who cannot purchase a gun and must turn over any firearms currently in his possession.
New York’s New Gun Law in Effect
New York’s tough new gun law is in effect. Owners of firearms now reclassified as assault weapons are required to register the guns. There are also new limits on the number of bullets allowed in magazines. New York’s NRA affiliate said it plans to head to court to seek an immediate halt to the magazine limit, with plans to contest other parts of the law later. New York State’s new gun restrictions limit state gun owners to no more than seven bullets in magazines, except at competitions or firing ranges.
The toughest part of the New York law requires gun owners to register an estimated 1 million guns previously not classified as assault weapons by April 15, 2014. The new classification of “assault weapon includes military-style features on guns, such as pistol grips on semi-automatic rifles, folding or thumbhole stocks, bayonet mounts, flash suppressors, or a second grip held by the non-trigger hand. The assault weapon definition also applies to some shotguns and handguns that have the noted or similar features.
Supreme Court Mute
Just this week the Supreme Court said it would not weigh in on a Second Amendment question that the lower courts have not been able to agree on: May states strictly limit or ban the carrying of guns in public for self-defense? The justices refused to hear the case of a New York State law that requires people seeking a permit to carry a gun in public to demonstrate that they have a special need for self-protection. The refusal surprised some authorities, given the New York Law is in conflict with a recent ruling by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, which struck down an Illinois law prohibiting the carrying of guns in public.
In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own guns, and it struck down a District of Columbia law that prohibited keeping guns in homes for self-defense.
“We are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority in the decision, District of Columbia v. Heller. “But the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table.”
In the Heller ruling, the Supreme Court said total bans on the right to keep guns at home for self-defense are unconstitutional. Since then, the court has been silent about what other laws may violate the Second Amendment. Very few challenges to gun laws and gun prosecutions in the lower courts have succeeded since the Heller decision.