The Bush Administration's Support for Gun Control

More evidence emerged this month that the gun debate is turning a corner in America.

Only days after signing the first gun control legislation in over a decade, the Bush Administration has now disavowed the most extreme outcomes implicit in the gun lobby's view of the Second Amendment.

In its brief in the D.C. v. Heller case pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, the Bush Administration acknowledges that because of the "unquestionable threat to public safety that unrestricted private firearm possession would entail" that "various categories of firearm-related regulation are permitted by the Second Amendment."

The Brady Center welcomes this surprising development. It demonstrates the problem with the "private purpose" interpretation of the Second Amendment. This view might have sounded good politically to the Ashcroft Justice Department [pdf], but now the Bush Administration realizes that the lower-court decision could "cast doubt on the constitutionality of" common-sense gun control laws like the "federal machine gun ban," the restrictions on firearm possession by felons, and the licensing of gun dealers.

Rather than defend the long-standing view of virtually every Federal court - that the Second Amendment has an obvious militia purpose, and is no barrier to the adoption of gun control laws by legislative bodies responsible for providing public safety and for weighing competing views on the effectiveness of and need for such laws - the Bush Administration brief proposes a "heightened scrutiny" test when the gun control law "has no grounding in Framing-era practice."

This test would consider the "practical impact" on the individual ("including the nature and practical adequacy of the available alternatives") and the "strength of the government's interest in enforcement of the relevant restriction."

This case-by-case approach would permit "Second Amendment doctrine to develop in an incremental and prudent fashion," according to the Bush Administration. Judges in different parts of the country could presumably reach different decisions on similar gun control restrictions based on the different law enforcement challenges in those communities.

Do we really want judges making those decisions rather than democratically-elected legislative bodies? Nine national police organizations have joined the Brady Center's brief [pdf] defending the pre-Heller state of Second Amendment law, which gave this power to communities.

Police and mayors and district attorneys (all of whom are on briefs supporting the District of Columbia) know that gun control laws that make it harder for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons help keep their communities safe.

The Second Amendment should not be a barrier to the adoption of sensible gun laws that help save lives. We're glad that the Bush Administration seems to agree.

(Note to readers: This entry, along with past entries, has been co-posted on bradycampaign.org/blog and the Huffington Post.)