John F. Kennedy once said, “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”
So, let’s open the market of information and speak the truth about the Constitution and guns.
In 2008, the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller ruled 5-4 in support of an individual right to keep and bear arms. Heller is now the standard for analyzing the constitutionality of gun laws. But even though Heller provided the answer many of us wanted concerning the right to keep and bear arms, it’s ignored or forgotten in our discussion on gun laws. Wittingly or not, leaders have largely kept the market “closed” on a full explanation of our 2nd Amendment rights.
We rarely speak of Heller’s caveat, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited,” and is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
For example, Heller addresses the issues behind so-called “Constitutional Carry.” In Heller, Justice Antonin Scalia explained that “the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues.” Digging even deeper, in an 1897 case called Robertson v. Baldwin, the Supreme Court said plainly that “the right of people to keep and bear arms is not infringed by laws prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons.”
Heller also provides guidance concerning the recent executive orders on guns. The most quoted portion of Heller states: “[N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding 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.” In other words, the new regulations expanding background checks for the purchase of guns, requiring greater reporting requirements for those with mental health issues, or increasing research and development into gun safety technology, likely do not violate the 2nd Amendment.
Let’s be clear—it is highly regrettable that gun regulations are ever instituted by executive order “fiat.” We elected congressional leaders for a reason—to legislate and take the lead in these matters.
But to paraphrase Kennedy, these same leaders and legislators should not be afraid to “open the marketplace” of knowledge and truth on constitutional issues to the American people, such as concerning issues pertaining to the 2nd Amendment. Tell us the full truth about the constitutionality of gun laws. Legislate with Supreme Court precedent like the Heller decision fully in mind. Treat constituents like adults. We can handle it.
Labeling something “constitutional” or “unconstitutional” means nothing without context, and shuts the door on knowledge. We deserve better from our leaders.
Sean J. Coletti is an attorney practicing law in Idaho Falls.