A New Court Decision Injects Some Sanity Into America's Gun Policy

If insanity is the belief that identical, repeated actions will lead to differing results, then sanity implies a rational consideration of consequences that will likely occur in the real world.

One would be hard pressed to find better examples of the insanity and the sanity in our nation's gun policy than a recent shooting in Florida, and a recent decision by a federal appeals court in New York.

First the insanity. Remember Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African American gunned down in February by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, with a semiautomatic handgun that the State of Florida had licensed Zimmerman to carry, loaded and concealed?

It was an "Emperor has no clothes" moment, where the horrific damage to public safety done by NRA laws spurred national outrage.

You see, Trayvon's killing was facilitated by two radical acts by the Florida legislature, both of which disregarded the wisdom of law enforcement for the demands of the gun lobby.

First, the State deprived law enforcement of the authority to reasonably restrict the carrying of hidden handguns in public, and instead enacted an NRA "shall issue" law that entitled Zimmerman to carry his hidden handgun even though he had a violent past. Then it replaced time-honored limitations on the use of deadly force with an NRA "Shoot First" law, that likely emboldened Zimmerman -- and prevented him from being charged for days after the killing.

The public furor over the "gunshine state" led the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to rend ties to the gun lobby, after its corporate members began fleeing the organization to avoid affiliation with the dangerous policies ALEC and the NRA had ushered in.

Yet nine months after Trayvon's death, on the day after Thanksgiving, another 17-year-old African American, Jordan Russell Davis, was parked at a Jacksonville convenience store when "gun collector" Michael Dunn pulled up beside him, complained that Jordan's music was too loud, and soon thereafter fired eight to nine shots into the car, killing Jordan. Florida, reportedly, had also licensed Dunn to pack heat on the streets.

As with Zimmerman's killing of Trayvon, we may never know all of the facts of Dunn's killing of Jordan. But it is likely that if Zimmerman and Dunn were not carrying guns, no one would have died.

That is what makes a recent - eminently sane -- court decision in New York especially important.

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled in its 2008 Heller decision that the Second Amendment protects the rights of "law-abiding, responsible citizens" to a gun in the home for self-defense, gun lobby lawyers have argued that the right should be expanded to entitle virtually anyone to carry loaded guns virtually anywhere, a radical change that could mandate NRA "Shall Issue" laws in every state, whether citizens like it or not.

Last week, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously rejected the gun lobby's argument. Recognizing that Justice Scalia's Heller opinion stated that the Second Amendment is not inconsistent with reasonable gun regulations, and prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons are longstanding in American history, the Court in Kachalsky v. Cacace upheld New York's carry laws, which generally limit public gun carrying to those with a particularized need to have a gun in public.

The Court's opinion was in line with virtually all of the 500+ courts who, since Heller, have rejected gun lobby arguments to strike down gun laws.

These courts' reasoned, thoughtful -- sane -- consideration of public safety is welcome news to the overwhelming majority of Americans who agree that we need stronger laws to keep guns out of the wrong hands. With 100,000 shootings a year, the last thing we need is judges depriving us of our right to enact and enforce the laws Americans want and need to keep guns off our streets and communities.