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What does the Second Amendment actually say?
Here’s the text: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Conservatives have argued to varying degrees that the wording does allow for a broad interpretation of who can carry guns. The Supreme Court has recently agreed. With the exception of felons, some people deemed to have serious mental illness (although there are plenty of loopholes here), “sensitive places” such as schools or courthouses, or “dangerous weapons,” the Second Amendment allows regular people to own firearms in their homes, Justice Antonin Scalia argued in a landmark 2008 gun case.
But several historians I talked to today said that until that ruling, the Second Amendment was not understood to protect individual rights to guns; it was more focused on the use of guns in militias. Conservatives in the 2008 Supreme Court gun case (District of Columbia v. Heller) argued that the “militia” phrase was merely a “preface” rather than part of its integral meaning. And that became the first Supreme Court decision in constitutional history to strike down a gun-control law, said Reva Siegel, a law professor at Yale who added that the court’s reading was considered broad even to a number of conservatives at the time.
Any day now, the Supreme Court could further broaden its interpretation of what the Second Amendment protects. The court’s conservatives are expected to decide that the amendment now applies to the right to carry guns in public spaces, knocking down a New York law and affecting laws in other liberal states.
“We have moved to more and more radical interpretation of the Second Amendment,” political scientist Susan Liebell of Saint Joseph’s University told me.
Let’s dig into other thorny debates over gun laws
Do “good guys” with guns save lives? There are certainly instances where that’s happened. Hours after the massacre in Uvalde, Tex., on Tuesday, top Texas Republicans said the solution is to arm more teachers. (Texas already allows some school personnel to be armed, but police said today the Uvalde shooter entered the school “unobstructed.”) The Post’s Philip Bump looked at recent mass shootings and found that the presence of an armed guard didn’t stop recent mass shooters from killing people in seconds.
Chicago has a lot of gun violence, too: This is the argument that stricter gun laws in liberal cities don’t stop killings. The Post’s Fact Checker looked at this in 2017, after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and found that despite Chicago’s tougher gun laws, most of the guns came from other states.
Do restrictive gun laws effectively prevent mass shootings? There are so many guns in America, any restrictive gun laws could take years to make a difference, and even then it’s hard to measure why violence goes up or down. The United States has far more guns per person than any other country — and far more gun violence, including not just mass shootings but also homicides and suicides in which firearms are used. Certainly, some gun-control policies help reduce violence, The Post’s Fact Checker reported in 2017 — such as requiring a license to have a gun. But it found the evidence is thin that tougher gun laws would quickly and dramatically reduce rates of gun violence.
But that’s no reason not to act, gun violence activists and Democrats argue. The latest government data shows that firearms now kill more kids than cars. Researchers say that if lawmakers focused on reducing gun violence the way it has car accidents, it could make a difference. “Families might not be experiencing this heartbreak and terrible loss again and again,” Jennifer M. Whitehill, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts who specializes in preventing injuries, told The Post’s Dan Keating.
A bad sign for tighter gun laws
Even after 10 people were killed by a gunman at a grocery store in a mostly Black neighborhood in Buffalo this month — and the arrest of a White suspect with apparent racist motivations — Democrats reasoned that no gun-control measure had a chance of breaking a Republican filibuster in the Senate. So they focused on something else: authorizing the government to investigate domestic terrorism, which the FBI says is a rising threat.
The House passed a bill last week to create domestic terrorism offices across three federal agencies. The legislation was touted by Democrats as a potential bipartisan, concrete step the federal government could take beyond offering thoughts and prayers to cities ravaged by mass shootings.
Today, Senate Republicans blocked it. As my colleague Mike DeBonis explains, they said it was too soon to address the recent mass shootings with new legislation and argued that having the government investigating domestic terrorism could lead to “targeting” of conservatives. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) dismissed the bill as “pure messaging” and “trying to take advantage of people’s grief.”
And this is a bill that had no restrictions on guns whatsoever — demonstrating the steep uphill climb for even nominally restrictive gun laws, even after another mass shooting in which children were gunned down.
“I just do not think there is any path forward for federal action,” Lanae Erickson, who is with the center-left think tank Third Way and has spent the past decade pushing for stricter gun laws in Congress, told me.