The Supreme Court gun fight

Brian Doherty is a senior editor at Reason magazine and the author of the forthcoming book, "Gun Control on Trial."

The Supreme Court’s decision in the District of Columbia vs. Heller case settles a long, heated debate, finding the 2nd Amendment protects an individual right to own weapons for self-defense -- not merely a right related to membership in a “well-regulated militia.”

But the ruling doesn’t end the struggle over gun control, nor does it mean gun regulations have been eliminated. The court lists a number of laws the decision does not affect, including concealed-weapon prohibitions and “long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

Still, even though the decision didn’t ban gun control outright, it did make a strong statement about our right to self-defense and safety.


The city of Washington claimed its gun ban helped protect citizens. But the facts show how foolish it is to rely on gun control for safety.

Washington’s per-capita murder rate has exceeded the rate in 1976 (when the ban passed) every year but one since then. For 10 of the last 30 years, its murder rate was more than twice as high as in ’76. The ugliest aspect of D.C.’s law was its implication that your life is not worth protecting -- given that police cannot, and don’t promise to, protect you in every life-threatening situation.

Like other epochal Supreme Court decisions, Heller will give rise to a protracted legal and public-policy debate.

Leading gun-control advocates, such as the Brady Center, are already spinning Heller as a victory: They claim the gun-rights lobby’s strength is based on stoking the public’s slippery-slope fears that any gun regulation is a forerunner to a total ban. With that ban now impossible, gun-control advocates believe they’ll have more ability to restrict sales, possession and carrying in ways short of prohibition.

Gun-rights advocates, for their part, are expected to use this decision to challenge Chicago’s handgun ban next, attacking another important question: Does the 2nd Amendment apply to state and local or only federal laws?

The right at issue -- an ancient right, preserved but not created by the 2nd Amendment -- is that of self-defense. The gun-control debate will continue, but it is a blessing that the court has refused to deny us the means of protecting our homes and families.