Gary is an author, trial lawyer, Mequon-area resident and town of Cedarburg supervisor. He is a columnist for the News Graphic and writes for several Wisconsin area magazines and is a national columnist with The American Thinker and PJ Media. He lives with his wife, Lisa, and has three sons ages 18 to 28. Gary won Ozaukee County in his bid for the Wisconsin Assembly's 60th District in 2011, but came up just 58 votes short.
In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court will review a 2007 ruling of the D.C. Court of Appeals, which was the first federal appellate court decision in history to strike down a firearm ban for violating the Second Amendment. The case is about a handgun - a pistol - that Dick Heller would like to keep in his home in Washington, D.C. He tried to register it with the city, but was turned down. In spite of a long-standing law which bans all handguns in the city, Washington, D.C. has been labeled as the “Murder Capital of the United States” due to an endless string of handgun murders. Heller lives in a high crime area and argues that he has a Second Amendment right to have a gun in his home for self-defense. The Court of Appeals agreed, and now the Supreme Court will have the final word on exactly what the Second Amendment means.
The Second Amendment is part of the Bill or Rights to the U.S. Constitution, and reads:
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.
Not exactly a model of clarity and good draftsmanship, the Second Amendment has given rise to heated debate regarding the ownership and use of firearms in America. First, there is a dispute regarding whether the Amendment limits federal action only, or also state gun laws. More importantly, gun rights advocates believe it protects the right of an individual to possess firearms, whereas the gun control crowd maintains that the founding fathers merely meant to protect the collective right of a militia to arm itself. They claim that the “well-regulated militia” clause necessarily adds meaning to the “keep and bear arms” clause by furnishing the reason for the latter's existence.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, like the D.C. Circuit in Heller, has held the right to be individual in nature, although they are not the final word because that case was not heard by the Supreme Court. James Madison, the father of the Constitution, wrote --- "The advantage that Americans have over every other nation is that they are armed," and Patrick Henry proclaimed, "The great objective is that every man be armed; everyone who is able may have a gun." It is hard to argue that they were not referring to an individual right, but the Supreme Court will sort it all out in a month.
In 1939, the Supreme Court decided the only other Second Amendment case to reach the High Court. In United States v. Miller, the Court determined, erroneously, that a shotgun was not "ordinary military equipment" that could "contribute to the common defense." During World War II, between 30,000 and 40,000 short-barreled pump action shotguns were purchased by the U.S. Ordnance Department and saw service in the trenches and for guarding German prisoners. That decision did not address the substantive right underlying the amendment. In one month, it will have a second chance.
If the Court declares the right to be “collective”, then we can expect even more restrictive gun control laws – even statewide bans - to spring up. Currently, there are gun bans in place in cities, in states, in public buildings, workplaces, U.S. Parks, big box shopping centers, airports, at Virginia Tech and other school campuses - all of which have proven to be adverse to the community when a shooting takes place. When a crazed killer, criminal, or terrorist enters and kills in a matter of seconds, they find these gun free zones to be as advertised — victim disarmament zones. If one Virginia Tech teacher had been armed with a Glock, 32 families might still have their loved ones.
Wisconsin is no stranger to the right to bear arms. Article I, Section 25 of our own State Constitution provides:
The people have the right to keep and bear arms for security, defense, hunting, recreation or any other lawful purpose.
Despite this right, Wisconsin is one of only two states that completely prohibit anyone but police officers and sheriffs' deputies from carrying concealed weapons for self defense. Colorado, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, and other states all recently passed shall-issue concealed carry bills. Wisconsin stands virtually alone, despite the 2003 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in State v. Hamdan. Hamdan owned and operated a grocery store in a high-crime area on West Capitol Drive, and was arrested for carrying a gun in his store in violation of state law. He was convicted and his case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which, in a six to one opinion, overturned the conviction in light of the Wisconsin Constitution. The Court had the following recommendation to the Wisconsin legislature:
We urge the legislature to thoughtfully examine Wisconsin Statute §941.23 in the wake of the amendment and to consider the possibility of a licensing or permit system for persons who have a good reason to carry a concealed weapon.
In 2006, the legislature listened, and passed the Personal Protection Act, bringing Wisconsin in line with the other forty-eight. Governor Doyle vetoed it. "The bill does not create a single job, help a single Wisconsin citizen afford health care, or improve schools for a single Wisconsin child," Doyle said in a confusing statement. "The Legislature should spend more time trying to get jobs into our communities instead of more guns." When will he learn that the guns are here, the jobs have left. The good guys lost the jobs, and the bad guys have the guns.
The FBI Uniform Crime Reports dramatically illustrate that states with right-to-carry laws have lower overall violent crime rates. Murder rates in states banning concealed-carry are 127% higher than in states having the most liberal concealed carry laws. Ironically, it is high crime, urban areas with large minority populations that experience the greatest reductions in violent crime when law-abiding citizens are allowed to carry concealed handguns. For each additional year that a concealed handgun law is in effect, the murder rate declines by 3%, rape by 2% and robberies by more than 2%. Accidental deaths and suicides do not increase, and there are no shoot-outs at the O.K. Corral. Some of the first gun control laws passed in the 1870’s were a discretionary means of ensuring that Italians, Jews, African-Americans, and labor agitators did not obtain arms.
There are about 300 million guns in the hands of some 80 million American gun owners. From 300 million guns, there are 11,000 annual shooting deaths - nearly all of which are the action of criminals. At the same time, armed, law-abiding citizens use their guns to de-escalate a crime more than 2.5 million times every year, almost exclusively without even firing their weapon. We have a better chance of sending all illegal aliens back home than we do of removing these guns from their legal owners – and no chance of taking guns away from criminals.
Simple truths seemingly shine through impassioned and emotional responses to tragedies like Columbine and Virginia Tech. Guns do not cause crime, and gun-control laws do not reduce crime. Darrell Scott’s daughter was killed in the Columbine tragedy, yet afterwards, he uttered more common sense in four sentences than all the ribbon-wearing talking heads combined:
The first recorded act of violence was when Cain slew his brother Abel out in the field. The villain was not the club he used. Neither was it the NCA - The National Club Association. The true killer was Cain and the reason for the murder could only be found in Cain's heart.
The Keller case will be the current U.S. Supreme Court’s first big test. Not only will they be interpreting for the first time the substantive meaning of the most controversial Amendment in the Bill of Rights, but it will be the first opportunity the current Court will have to prove themselves as strict constructionists of the greatest legal document ever written. They will have the chance to protect one of the most fundamental of American rights, and to follow the admonition of Thomas Jefferson:
On every question of construction of the Constitution, let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”
The Second Amendment guarantees the “People” the right to keep and bear arms – not just a militia. No revision of history will change that. Hopefully, the Supreme Court won’t either.