Regulating the sale and possession of firearms is not, by definition, infringing a right protected by the Constitution. It is possible to find a balance between the desire of individuals to own firearms, and the need for society as a whole to know that people who own guns are accountable for their use and control. It is also possible to balance the role of the federal government with the rights of the states to regulate firearms as each sees fit. As we work toward a framework that preserves our rights while prioritizing our safety, let’s start with some basic principles:
- The Constitution protects the right of most citizens to own firearms typically used for law-abiding purposes, including hunting, shooting, and self-defense.
- The Constitution permits federal and state regulation of gun ownership that does not infringe this basic right.
- To be effective, certain types of regulation must be the role of the federal government. These include:
- Universal background checks to prevent felons and people with mental illness from purchasing firearms;
- Prohibiting the sale of firearms other than those typically used for hunting, shooting, and self-defense, such as assault rifles and automatic weapons;
- Tracking the sale of all firearms.
- Other decisions are best left to the individual states, including decisions to:
- Permit or prohibit carrying concealed weapons, or carrying weapons in public places;
- Require training, licensing, or waiting periods to purchase a firearm.
Laws based on these principles would guarantee citizens the right to own and use firearms for hunting, shooting, and self-defense. It also will make it easier for law enforcement officers to track firearms used in crimes. And while limitations on ownership for certain types of weapons is not a panacea, it is an important step. We know that certain types of guns make the consequences of violence more far destructive.
All rights come with responsibilities. The rights to gun ownership created by the Second Amendment carry with them the responsibility to exercise those rights in ways that protect the lives and safety of our citizens. Whether they choose to own guns or not, all citizens have the basic right to feel safe in public places, in their schools, and in their homes.
Published: June 16, 2017
To Learn More
- The five extra words that can fix the second amendment by Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (Washington Post, April 11, 2014)