by Bob Barr
Supreme Court decisions upholding the right to abortion or defending press freedom draw kudos and huzzahs from the mainstream media. The mere possibility that the High Court might issue an opinion supporting the Second Amendment, however, throws that same media into conniption.
So it is with oral arguments scheduled before the Supreme Court this week regarding a closely watched firearms case — New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. Considering the fervor with which the mainstream media is wringing its collective hands over this case, one would think the justices were preparing to place a rocket launcher into the hands of every man, woman and child in America.
One writer, Ian Millhisen, authored an opinion piece last week that described the pending case as one that “could gut America’s gun laws,” and mused that if a majority of the nine Supreme Court justices were to side with the citizen-plaintiffs in the case, it would usher in an era of “unlimited” gun rights.
Such hyperbole is typical of the manner by which the mainstream media and most Democrat policy makers have characterized the gun control debate ever since the High Court rendered a pair of decisions in 2008 and 2010 declaring the obvious – that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm, not some amorphous right enjoyed only by the citizenry in general.
Neither of those two decisions opened the floodgates to unfettered concealed-carry gun possession in cities and towns across America. In fact, neither decision even dealt with the right to possess a firearm outside the home, and the numerous restrictions on possession of a gun outside one’s home, especially in notoriously firearms-averse jurisdictions like New York, remain in place even now, 11 years later. This is why the case now before the Court is in fact an important supplement to those decisions.
The case to be argued this week presents squarely the question of whether officials in a state (in this case, New York) can arbitrarily deny a law-abiding citizen a permit to carry a concealed firearm for self-protection outside their home. Government officials in the Empire State are able to exercise such broad authority for no reason other than a 1911 state law, commonly known as the “Sullivan Act,” empowers them to do so.
According to that long-standing and onerous law, if an otherwise law-abiding citizen in New York fails to convince the reviewing government official that he or she has a “special need” beyond the “needs” of citizens generally to protect themselves outside their home, that citizen is plum out of luck and denied this most basic right of self-defense.
No other right expressly guaranteed by the Bill of Rights is so arbitrarily encumbered.
Notwithstanding that the current case has nothing whatsoever to do with the many restrictions imposed on the type, quantity, and acquisition of firearms imposed already by laws at all levels of government, anti-gun activists and writers continue to sound the alarm that if at least five members of the current Supreme Court bench side with the two individual plaintiffs in the New York case, cities across the country will run red with blood. Hardly.
First-year law students know it is extremely rare for the Supreme Court of the United States to render any decision that goes beyond the “four corners” of a case presented to it; and even then, the Court is notorious for rendering decisions on the most narrow grounds possible. Moreover, trying to handicap in advance how so-called “conservative” justices will line up on any particular case is at best a crapshoot.
Thus, when all the dust settles late next spring, when the court likely will publish its opinion in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, it is unlikely the sky will have fallen on the gun control Chicken Littles.
Hopefully, however, the court’s decision will at a minimum put a clear and definitive stop to state laws that permit government officials at their whim to pick winners and losers in the never-ending effort by American citizens to protect themselves from the violence that increasingly confronts them on the streets of cities in New York and beyond.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.