This commentary is by Chris Bradley, of Northfield. He is a registered lobbyist with the Vermont secretary of state on behalf of the Vermont Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs, where he is president and executive director.
In 2008, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that honest and law-abiding citizens had a right to self-defense in their own home. In making their decision, SCOTUS recognized that firearms are a common means of self-defense, and they then struck down a D.C. law that required firearms be unloaded and dissembled or otherwise kept locked up in a D.C. home as being unconstitutional (Heller decision).
In 2010, SCOTUS ruled that honest and law-abiding citizens have a right to self-defense by owning a handgun, and again recognized that firearms are a common means of self-defense. SCOTUS therefore struck down a Chicago law that banned possession of handguns as being unconstitutional (McDonald decision).
In 2022, SCOTUS ruled that a New York firearm permitting scheme, which denied law-abiding citizens from obtaining a permit required to carry a concealed firearm for self-defense outside the home, was unconstitutional. In rendering that decision, SCOTUS established a new standard by which all cases involving the Second Amendment must be resolved (Bruen decision).
Simply put, SCOTUS mandated that cases involving the Second Amendment must be resolved by a single-step test, with that single-step being a strict interpretation based on the constitutional text as informed by history. Using that lens, there are a number of laws passed across the country that do not meet constitutional muster.
For years and years and years, the Second Amendment has been treated differently than all other rights, with legislatures and courts making decisions and judgements that steadily infringed on the unalienable right of self-defense.
The right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not “a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules that the other Bill of Rights guarantees.” (2010, SCOTUS decision in McDonald v. Chicago)
In the coming months, you will hear of various firearm laws being struck down in courts across the country as challenges are raised using the new standard. For example, large capacity magazine bans, “assault-weapon” bans, age 21 restrictions, as well as laws that force confiscation of firearms without due process are now being challenged using this new standard, and are being found to be unconstitutional.
We do get it — No one wants gun violence. But it’s not the honest and law-abiding that are causing this violence. It is no longer constitutionally acceptable to infringe on the rights of honest and law-abiding citizens. This new standard needs to be front-and-center as new laws that relate to firearms are being considered, in addition to scrutiny and challenges made against existing firearm laws that have been passed in consideration of this new standard.
If we want to drastically slow gun violence, we need to embrace the existing laws that have harsh penalties for committing crime with a firearm. We need our state and district attorneys to aggressively prosecute gun crime, not allow those charges to be dropped or allow pleading to lesser charges. We need to continue to enforce cash bail, especially with repeat offenders. We also need to properly fund and support our law enforcement. We need deterrence.
We can do these things now, today, and it will have an impact on gun violence. We know this because it worked before we began treating extremely serious crimes with leniency.