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The EditorsNovember 16, 2009

Should residents of local communities have the right to keep handguns in their homes? This Second Amendment issue is a question that the Supreme Court will consider in 2010, perhaps as early as February. The specific case before the court is McDonald v. Chicago, in which a few of that city’s residents, strongly backed by the National Rifle Association, are challenging Chicago’s strict gun control laws.

Setting the stage for this case was last year’s Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. To the dismay of gun control advocates, the court ruled then that the district’s prohibition against the possession of handguns in the home for self-defense violated the Second Amendment. But because the district is a federally governed zone, that decision applied only there and to similar federal enclaves, like military bases. To widen the impact of the ruling to local and state regions, gun rights proponents want to obtain a similar ruling in the Chicago case and thus eviscerate the stricter gun laws there and elsewhere in the country. Such a ruling would be a troubling development indeed, particularly for Chicago, a city that has an especially high rate of gun violence. Between September 2007 and April 2008, two dozen teenage public school students were murdered there, most of them shot to death.

This year Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, an ardent gun control advocate, who has enlisted the support of mayors nationwide to fight gun violence through the bipartisan group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, initiated a four-month investigation of gun shows in three states with weak gun control laws. The report, Gun Show: Under Cover, describes how undercover investigators traveled to gun shows in Nevada, Ohio and Tennessee last spring and summer. They used concealed video equipment to document gun show dealers selling weapons, contrary to federal law, to people who could not pass criminal background checks. They also proved that dealers frequently sold to straw purchasers, who had only to prove their residency in the state and a crime-free background in order to buy arms, which they then turned over to the real buyer, who would in turn transport them back to New York and other cities along the so-called “iron pipeline.” Many of these weapons have been traced to shooting deaths.

The investigators found that of 30 private sellers in the three states, 19 sold weapons even when the under-cover purchaser said that he himself would probably not pass a background check. One seller replied with a laugh, “I wouldn’t pass either, bud.“ Moreover, had the buyer later committed a crime, there would be no way to trace the weapon’s provenance, because private sellers are not required to keep records of gun show sales. The investigators also tested federally licensed gun show dealers, who, unlike private sellers, must conduct background checks. Of 17 dealers videotaped, 16 sold guns to straw purchasers.

Kristen Rand, legislative director at the nonprofit Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., pointed out to America that such weapons all come from jurisdictions without strong laws like Chicago’s. “You can’t buy a handgun in Chicago or the District of Columbia legally, so traffickers go to states with weaker laws and then bring them to the cities that don’t allow their purchase.” For Ms. Rand and other gun control advocates, one of the worst aspects of a victory by those who mounted McDonald v. Chicago would be that it would remove what she called “the most effective measures to prevent handgun violence.” She observed that the Supreme Court in both Heller and now in McDonald is examining the issue solely as a question of constitutional law “and not in terms of the deadly effect on citizens of gun violence.” The court should know better than most that, as former U.S. Justice Robert H. Jackson said, “the Constitution is not a suicide pact.”

Although most observers fear that the outcome of the Chicago case will be similar to that of the Heller case, one ground for hope is a bill introduced by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey. It would mandate background checks for all private sales at gun shows. In the meantime, states with bad records of gun violence continue to allow gun show loopholes to remain open. The implications of the killing of 33 people at Virginia Tech in 2007 by a mentally deranged man who had no difficulty obtaining his weapons has faded too quickly from public memory. Virginia legislators who are once more resisting plugging the gun show loophole for private sales seem also to have forgotten. Closing this loophole could slow the deadly flow along the iron pipeline.

Rights have correlative duties. When individuals and localities do not meet those responsibilities, it falls to government to do so. Thus, if there is a fundamental Second Amendment right to bear arms, there is also, as there must be, a fundamental responsibility to regulate their sale and use.

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TM Lutas
13 years 2 months ago

The constant drumbeat over the decades of gun control's US history is that this population or that was incapable of responsible gun ownership, that a blood bath would ensue if guns were liberalized. Others stated that gun ownership would be helpful to reducing crime.

Over time, gun laws have been substantially liberalized in most states over the past couple of decades. The experiment has been run. The results are in. There has been no bloodbath in liberalizing districts. It is irresponsible to ignore the data. 

Without those blood baths in liberalizing jurisdictions, there is no suicide pact, no acceptable reason to deny disproportionately minority urban populations the same rights that their suburban and rural fellow americans have. All that is left is prejudice and bigotry, the genesis of much of early gun control legislation which was often explicitly aimed at keeping blacks unarmed, the better to be frightened by the Klan. 

I condemn illegal acts by sellers. Felons should not be armed in general and most pro-gun groups are quite strong on enforcement measures. Enforcing current federal law would have no relationship to the gun control regime of any state or locality. Have the Jesuits stopped teaching logic? This editorial is unworthy. 

Jep Poole
13 years 2 months ago

My wife is Catholic, and my kids attend Catholic school, but when I read articles like this, penned by an editorial board that purportedly represents Catholic doctrine, I want to pull them out and send them to public school. 

Firearms are one of the most heavily regulated sales in this country, and the fact that you simply accept the absurd rhetoric from groups like Mayor Bloomberg's Mayor's Against Illegal Guns, and the Violence Policy Center betrays your anti-gun bias. 

There is no "gun show loophole." What the anti-gunners intend to do is to bar the sales or gifting of privately held firearms from any private citizen to any other private citizen. That means my father could not give me a gun or I could not give one to my son or daughter, or I could not sell one to a fellow parishioner or neighbor without submitting to (and paying for) a federal background check.

There are already laws on the books for private sellers. I cannot sell a firearm to someone who I believe is engaged in criminal activity or is barred from owning one because they are a convicted felon. Enforce the laws on the books, and stop advocating for the further abrogation of our constitutional rights. "This editorial is unworthy"...I agree! 

Phil Roe
13 years 2 months ago

"Should residents of local communities have the right to keep handguns in their homes?" . . . yes . . . and as our founding documents recognize, the right to self-defense is a GOD GIVEN RIGHT, regardless of what the "supreme court" or anyone else says on the issue.

Rather then buy into "Bloominidiot's" attack on our fundamental American rights, Catholics would be much better served to study and preach the long and rich Catholic tradition of recognizing the value of self-defense through the St. Gabriel Possenti society.


From there, it becomes and easy step to support our Constitutionally recognized, God given right to defend ourselves in the face of aggression.

Rudy Rau
13 years 2 months ago

There is nothing 'unworthy' about this editorial whatsoever, The article simply raises the issue of gun ownership, does not challenge 2nd Amendment rights, rather, suggests only that with the right comes responsibility. I add that owning a gun is not a 'God-given right'.

As a gun owner of 50+ years, I wholeheartedly agree. The Justice Department under Ashcroft (Bush 43) agreed in his November 2001 letter to U.S. Attorneys concerning the case Emerson vs United States. Regulation and restriction are perfectly acceptable and appropriate within the 2nd Amendment. The Supreme Court reiterated that fact in their ruling on the Heller case.

Christopher Mulcahy
13 years 2 months ago
The right to gun ownership in America is an important subset of the right to private ownership of property in general. Private property, in turn, is the sacrament (small s) of American individual freedom. Not understanding this is not being a true American.

America stands tall for individual freedom. Numerous other systems advocate for collective ownership and the subservience of the individual to the state. If you like these concepts, you are in the wrong country.

Accidents happen with guns, cars, and cement mixers. But we will keep our guns, cars, and cement mixers and try to minimize accidents for the sake of our neighbors as well as ourselves. Do note, in passing, that citizens of other countries who lost their right to weapons also, oftimes, also lost their cars and cement mixers. Or never achieved them in the first place. I wonder-is that just a coincidence?

A corollary of private ownership of guns, and the rights of free people to come and go as they please, is a focus on individual responsibility. When an American abuses these plenary rights he bears greater responsibility than a collective man who has compromised his choices. He cannot point to another to blame for his actions. He must take the full consequences of his deeds and be seen by others to do so. Does this suggest a unique point of analysis for the imposition of the death penalty?

The world is full of societies of violent men who would take the lives and property of others. History teaches us this is so. American has always understood this and has had to instruct others by the application of the 101st Airborne Division and others. A population of gun owners has been most helpful. These lessons, however, are never permanent. We must remain with the US Marines semper paratus.
William Jaenike
13 years 2 months ago
America's editors are astonishingly naive. To suggest that smuggling handguns, from outside the country or within, can be effectively controlled when many tons of cocaine and other hard drugs can not be, indicates fuzzy analysis and a disconnect from the real world of large cities today. Liberal wishful thinking has, sadly, been a trait of Jesuit leadership who have undermined so much of the good done by Jesuit fathers on the ground around the world.
Outlawing handguns altogether, except for the incompetent and convicted criminals, will leave plenty of them solely in the hands of people who threaten the innocent while disarming those law abiding citizens who need such weapons for self-defense.
13 years 2 months ago

As someone who was raised around firearms, and brought up to respect them and practice firearm safety, I recognize the responsibility that is inherent in the right to bear arms. I also respect the Right to bear arms as a fundamental right belonging to free people everywhere, not only in this nation but in every nation; as long as that right exercised to defend and not oppress.

At the heart of the problem is the ineffectiveness of politicians to enforce laws already on the books, preferring to enact new laws that have the self-serving effect of giving them an image as a problem solver. Had the laws and requirements for gun ownership been followed the Virginia Tech attacks would most likely have been averted; as the shooter had a psychiatric record that excluded him from gun ownership. Had the government agency responsible for entering this information done their job, a red flag would have come up on the application to purchase firearms.

As for Mayor Bloomberg's "investigation' into Gun shows. Has it escaped your attention that Mr. Bloomberg is the Mayor of New York City, not a Federal government official, and that his actions were in violation of Federal Gun Laws. By hiring on investigators, having them misrepresent themselves, outside of his jurisdiction, and transporting these firearms across State lines, he is a participant in several felonies.

Vince Koers
13 years 2 months ago
We are saddened to see, once again, America editors buy into the rhetoric of the amalgam of anti-gun organizations in George Soros’ one-world UN-controlled gun fantasy.

As long-time down-state Illinois residents, we are tired to death of having our constitutional rights trampled by the likes of George Ryan, Rod Blagojevich, the Chicago Daley families and their mob of gangster-politicians who are setting the agenda for stripping away all of our weapons instead of simply enforcing the laws already on the books. As Mayor Daley or his family has had the power for years to confiscate illegal guns in Chicago, why haven’t they done so? Why is Chicago still the “shooting capital of the world?”

And why are shooting deaths down all across the United States in similar localities that have adopted citizens’ Right-to-Carry firearms legislation? All except Chicago?

America the magazine also parrot’s the gun-banner’s blather that the Heller case was a narrow decision only applicable to federal enclaves such as Washington D.C., which is a line of wishful thinking that will soon be blown clean out of the water by future legal broadsides. The opinion piece admits as much in noting the opinions of “most observers.”

As New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s private forays claim to prove, any crimes that may be occurring at gun shows are readily apparent to casual investigators, and ought to be prosecuted by the appropriate authorities. No new legislation is required. All that is needed is political backbone to follow the law and do their jobs as prosecutors everywhere. If these politicos really want illegal guns to be gone, they have the legal means to make that happen.

But what they really want are all guns – yours and mine, not just the illegal guns.

Bloomberg’s “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” effort has its own problems, as Mayors and related civil servants across our country are defecting from the effort as they learn MAIG has been misrepresented to them, and is a group truly aimed at taking legal guns, not focused on illegal guns as Bloomberg originally claimed.

Likewise, although America’s editorial focused largely on the supposed “gun show loophole,” and efforts in Virginia to modify state laws, America failed to note that weapons used in the killing of 33 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, by Seung-Hui Cho were purchased legally at a gun shop, not at a gun show. Any failure in the Virginia system pertaining to Cho is with the State’s interface between agencies, not problems with gun shows. Executive actions have closed those loopholes, and Virginia’s legislator’s are only protecting their citizen’s Constitutional rights to purchase and possess firearms.

While rights may have correlative duties, those duties cannot diminish the rights. There is a fundamental Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms,” and that right “shall not be infringed” There may be correlative duties, but those duties must not infringe on the sale and use of weapons. What part of “shall not be infringed” doesn’t America understand?
Paul Louisell
13 years 2 months ago

I have no problem with reasonable regulation of gun sales as in Michigan. 

I do have a problem with government ignoring the constitution when passing laws and regulations. 

If I want to buy a handgun to protect myself, I should be allowed to do so.

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