Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 16, 2002
POLITICS/LAW: The State of The Gun Debate
The Wall Street Journal has a front-page story this morning (here's the link if you're a subscriber) on how Smith & Wesson has rejoined the fight against gun regulations in an environment where lawsuits and new regulations have lost a lot of steam as a result of skeptical courts and the Bush Administration. Personally, I always thought the lawsuits - other than those few for purely accidental shootings that might have been prevented by safety devices, which are fairly standard tort claims -- were silly. First, everybody knows guns are dangerous. Second, many of the claims were based on the theory that it was a violation of one state's gun policies to sell too many guns legally in another state, knowing that some of them would then be shipped across state lines (the "oversupply" theory). Adopting such a rule under state law is a straightforward violation of the Commerce Clause - a state regulating the very act of interstate commerce. (A more interesting question is whether both the high- and low-regulation states are transgressing Federalism's Edge, a concept I've discussed in more detail here and here).
BUT, WILL THE DC SNIPER CHANGE THE POLITICS OF GUN CONTROL? Not much, I suspect. Except in New Jersey -- where the Torricautenberg campaign has been hammering the issue for months -- nearly all the contested Senate elections, and the majority of hot House and governor's contests, are in states where gun control is not popular (Missouri, New Hampshire, Colorado, Arizona, Michigan, the Carolinas, etc.), so the national Democrats have been terrified of the issue. What's worse, the case raises the specter of a ban on hunting rifles, the crown jewel of gun ownership.
Personally, I'm pretty moderate on this issue - I'm generally apt to support gun regulation like registration requirements, but not outright bans. After all, the Second Amendment guarantees an individual's right to bear arms, but much unlike the First Amendment (which says "Congress shall make no law" regulating speech and religion), the Second Amendment expressly contemplates that gun ownership by the militia - i.e., the able-bodied adult (then, male) population - shall be "well-regulated." I'm not an expert on the history, but I doubt that the Founding Fathers would have been alarmed by efforts to register the gun owners in the State if they'd seen a need.