But if gun control is dead politically, it remains alive and well in the courts, despite a few high-profile Supreme Court rulings. For all the talk of America’s gun culture, we also have a gun-control culture. Gun control is as much a part of America’s DNA as the Second Amendment and the six-shooter.
Still, gun control is usually seen as bad politics — a perception borne out by a politician who ought to know. Nearly 20 years ago, President Bill Clinton pushed through the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act, requiring federally licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks on buyers, along with a 10-year ban on the manufacture and sale of new assault weapons.
After the Republicans took control of the House in 1994, ending the Democrats’ 40-year reign in the majority, Clinton blamed gun control. In his 2004 autobiography, he wrote that the gun lobby “could rightly claim to have made Gingrich the House speaker.”
Although some evidence suggests that gun politics may not have had the impact Clinton thought, “Avoid Gun Control At All Costs” has practically become a plank in the Democratic Party platform. As a result, there are no gun-control proposals pending in Congress that have any chance of moving forward.
Gun-control advocates have fared even worse in state legislatures. Since the mid-1980s, more than 30 states have enacted laws making it easier for anyone without a criminal record to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Several states have adopted laws letting people carry guns in bars, in churches and on public transportation. Bills pending in some states would even allow guns on college campuses, such as Virginia Tech.
In 2008, the Supreme Court opened up a new battlefield for the gun-control movement. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the justices struck down D.C.’s ban on handguns, holding unambiguously for the first time that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to have a gun in your home. Gun rights supporters were hopeful that Heller would be the beginning of the end for gun control, and gun-control advocates were despondent.
They shouldn’t have been. Since the Heller decision, the courts have been inundated with lawsuits challenging nearly every type of gun-control law. Over the past four years, there have been more than 300 federal court decisions on the constitutionality of gun control. All but a handful of laws have been upheld.