Yes the Constitution has a second amendment which addresses the issue of gun ownership. But not until the Heller decision in 2008 did individual gun ownership come to the fore. This now famous landmark case, whose decision was written by Antonin Scalia, ended up a demarcation for gun rights groups. Until then individual gun ownership not related to service in a militia traditionally connected to lawful purposes such as some form of self-defense had been moot. In fact in 1975 the City Council of the District of Columbia passed the Firearms Control Regulations Act. The Heller decision made it unconstitutional. In 2010 McDonald v the City of Chicago reinforced the notion of the 2nd Amendment protecting individual rights. So the issue of individual gun ownership while based in the 2nd Amendment is far younger than we think. And of course there are those who still disagree with the 5-4 reasoning of the Supreme Court. Today there is what may be a growing number of people who want to repeal the 2nd Amendment. Because I am old enough to remember the defeat of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) giving women rights equal to men, I hold little or no hope for such a measure. But some more schooled in the legal issues of the Heller decision than I am, Scott Lemieux for one, in an L.A. Times op-ed writes “…Heller left a much wider scope for gun control than is commonly recognized. In his majority opinion, the late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that “the right secured by the 2nd Amendment is not unlimited” and that the 2nd Amendment does not prevent the state from banning “dangerous and unusual weapons.”” This means that under Heller, a ban on semiautomatic weapons would be constitutional, Lemieux points out. One can, and I do, conclude that if this is so, then it does seem to leave much room for Congress to act.
Even in today’s climate where many politicians fear the wrath of the NRA, or is it the withdrawals of donations, there is much that can be done to limit the accessibility of guns. In a much discussed recent NYT article, Andrew Ross Sorkin suggested that banks, credit card companies or those which process credit cards payments could regulate whether or not guns could be paid by credit card—bitcoins for example can’t be. At the time of this writing at least one bank has done so and several companies have also cut their ties to the NRA. There is also an approach which may be slower to bring about and yet which could have greater long term impact, that is to bring up a case to challenge Heller. Regardless of what else is done, it is an approach I can’t help but support. The point is that we have options, that there are many approaches, many ways to tackle the problems of guns, despite the existing resistance. And just like the young students in Florida following their experience with 17 of their peers being shot, we too must become activists, we too must make sure that the issue does not rest until we succeed in controlling who can buy and use a gun.