The recent spate of high profile shootings — in Charleston, Oregon, and elsewhere — has again propelled forward the question of how to combat gun violence, suggesting it might even become a meaningful issue in 2016. So there are two things liberals and Democrats might want to start clarifying right now about how they’re going to approach this debate:
1) It’s probably a good idea for liberals to fully acknowledge the individual gun right, and focus on making the case that sensible regulation of firearms is not incompatible with that right.
2) Instead of getting drawn into debates over mass shootings, it’s probably better to focus on the broader problem of gun violence, which is actually the more pressing policy challenge in many respects, even though (paradoxically) the political world engages on it only when there are mass shootings.
I chatted about these ideas today with Adam Winkler, a professor of Constitutional law at the University of California who is the author of “Gunfight: The battle over the right to bear arms in America,” an even-handed history of guns in America and the political, legal, and policy battles over them. A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows:
THE PLUM LINE: Former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens has been advocating for a change in the Second Amendment to clarify that the Constitutional gun right only exists in the context of militia membership. But this seems misguided. Isn’t the better argument to concede the individual gun right, while making the case that this right isn’t incompatible with sensible regulation of firearms?
PROFESSOR ADAM WINKLER: That’s right. The Second Amendment is not the biggest hurdle to effective gun control laws. Courts have rarely invalidated gun control laws for violating the Constitution. With over 300 million guns in circulation, and gun owners completely unwilling to give them up, even if we were to repeal the Second Amendment, we’d still be awash in guns.
Gun control and gun rights are not incompatible. Over the course of American history, we’ve always had both.
There are many gun owners out there who support more effective gun control law... Keep reading