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Opinion: Columnists

Missouri moves toward stronger gun rights as Supreme Court wavers on Second Amendment

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Opinion,David Freddoso,Columnists,Gun Control,Missouri,Firearms

Supporters of gun rights have still not figured out how to react to a mass shooting. It's probably because there isn't a good way. In such emotionally charged moments, politicians want to do something, anything, no matter how futile or even counterproductive.

That impulse is understandably much stronger when innocent children have just been slain. After the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn., amid emotional pleas by President Obama and others, lawmakers in several states and at the federal level either felt enormous pressure to restrict gun ownership or saw a political benefit in doing so. Their proposals nearly all unrelated to anything that had happened at Newtown, and could not have prevented it from happening.

The new laws were stopped in Congress and many states, but some states heeded Obama's call and passed new laws. In Colorado, the new laws are very unpopular and have already caused three Democratic state senators to lose their seats - two by recall and one by resignation under pressure. Even so, these laws are unlikely to be repealed any time soon. The lesson is that constitutional rights can be taken away in a moment, but they're very hard to get back.

Moreover, the Second Amendment is only as good as the U.S. Supreme Court says it is. Even if it has handed down some gun rights victories lately, the court has been very cautious about spelling out its full interpretation.

That's one reason the gun rights movement has worked over the years to create a firewall. For the most part, this has meant going on offense and expanding gun rights at the state level. The last decade ushered in a host of new laws requiring the issuance of concealed carry permits to anyone who is eligible. Lately, the trend has been to pass laws allowing guns to be carried in more places. Just this year, Idaho has allowed permit-holders to carry on college campuses. Georgia has just removed state restrictions on where guns can be taken, leaving it up to federal law and the discretion of private property owners.

But in Missouri, they're trying something a bit different. This week, lawmakers in the Show-Me State approved an amendment updating their state constitution's explicit protection of gun rights.

If the Second Amendment's very breadth has left too much room to jurists' imaginations, this amendment is quite specific. To “the right of every citizen to keep and bear arms,” it adds a right to keep “ammunition, and accessories typical to the normal function of such arms.” This specifically closes the door on backdoor gun-control methods attempted in other states through ammunition and accessory bans.

More importantly, the Missouri amendment also requires the courts to apply “strict scrutiny” to any restriction on gun rights -- which is to say, restrictions will not survive judicial review unless they serve a “compelling governmental interest” and are tailored as narrowly as possible to achieve that interest. In practice, laws subjected to “strict scrutiny” are frequently stricken.

Most states have some provision in their constitution preserving the right to bear arms (Maryland, New York and New Jersey are among those that do not.) But this Missouri amendment would probably be the strongest yet.

If Missourians vote to approve the amendment this November, it will not override any federal laws. But it will mean that if some future Missouri legislature hastily reacts to a tragedy without thinking, Missourians won't have to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court or win several elections in a row in order to get their constitutional rights back.

DAVID FREDDOSO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is the former Editorial Page Editor for the Examiner and the New York Times-bestselling author of "Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Re-elect Barack Obama." He has also written two other books, "The Case Against Barack Obama" (2008) and "Gangster Government" (2011).
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