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Tom Head

Relax: Nobody's Going to Repeal the Second Amendment...

By January 11, 2013

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...because nobody has to. It's already ineffective, and is unlikely to affect federal gun control policy in any significant way.

The first meaningful U.S. Supreme Court application of the Second Amendment came in 2008 with DC v. Heller, which struck down the District of Columbia's ban on handguns. Before that, you have to look back to the Cruikshank and Miller cases--neither of which feel much like a landmark case, and both of which affirm a very narrow interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Pre-Heller, I called for more clarity from the Court. While Heller was a step in that direction, the ruling seems to have been specifically written to avoid creating precedents that might affect other gun control policies. Heller becomes directly relevant to the federal debate only if there is the political will to support a specific federal ban on handguns. There are enough Republicans, and rural Democrats, to pretty much guarantee that this will not happen within the near future.

It's possible that the Court could set a new Second Amendment precedent that would be more expansive, and affect more federal policies, but a narrowly-written 5-4 ruling does not point to that possibility. More likely, the Supreme Court will continue to leave federal gun control policy alone, as it has historically done.

The real obstacle to more expansive federal gun control is political, not constitutional--and if the institutional gun rights movement continues to advocate that we censor media, discriminate against the mentally ill, and surround ourselves with armed government guards, it will find few allies among American civil libertarians.

Related: History of the Second Amendment

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