by Bob Barr
Since at least the early 1990s, Democrats and other gun control advocates have used the term “common sense” to characterize virtually every scheme they concoct to limit citizens’ ability to own, possess, use or carry firearms, gun parts or ammunition. The phrase has served as a clever way to camouflage the true nature of what such measures are designed to do, which is to undermine the rights protected by the Second Amendment to our Constitution. The linguistic ploy often has worked to Democrats’ advantage, which is one reason President Biden has proposed a new round of “common sense” gun control measures.
There soon may be some good news on the “common sense” front, however, not for gun control advocates but for Second Amendment supporters.
Late last month, and for the first time in more than a decade, the United States Supreme Court accepted a lower court case that directly confronts the fundamental scope of the Second Amendment. If the High Court actually decides this case — New York Rifle & Pistol Assn., et al. v. Corlett, et al. — by overturning the lower court’s decision, it will in fact be rendering one of the most common sense decisions in its 232-year history. Moreover, it will make all those liberals constantly clamoring for “common sense” gun control furious beyond anything we have seen in many years.
Considering the blatant and heavy-handed attacks now being leveled against the Court by Biden and Senate Democrat leaders, and despite conservatives now enjoying what many observers consider a 6 to 3 “conservative” majority among the nine justices now serving, how the Court will rule in the case, and how broadly that opinion will reach, is far from certain.
The case found its way to the Supreme Court because New York has for many decades vested its government officials with the absolute, arbitrary power to deny law-abiding citizens the ability to carry a firearm outside the four walls of their home for self-defense, even if they live in a crime-ridden neighborhood.
Unlike virtually all of the other amendments comprising the Bill of Rights (particularly the First Amendment), over the decades the Second Amendment has not benefited from having the Supreme Court affirm its intended purpose as a guardrail against government infringing the liberties supposed to be protected by it. Not until 2008, for example, did the Court finally confirm that the amendment indeed protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. Unfortunately, and important as it was, the decision in that case (District of Columbia v. Heller) limited the right to “keep” a firearm to the interior of the gun owner’s home; once the owner stepped outside, the right vanished and could be infringed by state and local governments essentially at their will.
As the result of that important but narrow ruling 13 years ago, New York and a handful of other states have been able to prevent citizens from taking lawfully held firearms beyond the threshold of their home . . . except when a “licensing official” decides that the owner falls into a very special subclass of “persons” able to “bear” a firearm because he or she has demonstrated some undefined “proper cause” to the satisfaction of the official; something that in New York almost never happens. According to this nonsensical analysis, lawful gun owners are allowed to defend themselves with a gun if necessary, but only inside their home and not outside it.
Such a tortured and artificially constrained concept of the fundamental human right to self-defense is the polar opposite of “common sense,” but it is one that the Supreme Court only now has finally taken under advisement. If the Court asserts itself and applies “common sense” in accord with the clear historic and legal bases on which the Second Amendment was conceived and ratified, and overturns New York’s extremely restrictive law, it will have struck a mighty blow for “common sense” and for the rule of constitutional law more broadly.
If a majority of Supreme Court justices rule against New York and in favor of individual liberty in this case, it will also signal that at least five justices have the backbone to stand up to Democrat threats to dilute their power and undermine our judicial system for partisan purposes by “packing” the Court. History and the American people will be watching.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7 District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He now serves as President of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation based in Atlanta, Georgia.