Two Steps Forward for Sensible Gun Laws

By Daily Editorials

June 29, 2016 4 min read

The sensible gun laws movement should be heartened by two developments Monday: One, the Supreme Court again reminded the nation that gun rights under the Second Amendment are not absolute, and two, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a gun bill passed by the Legislature that went way too far toward gun absolutism.

Too many Americans have bought into the extremist interpretation of the Second Amendment peddled by the gun lobby. The operative language was written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia in 2008.

"Like most rights," Scalia wrote in D.C. v. Heller, "the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."

States can and do impose their own gun restrictions. Thirty-four states, for example, expressly prohibit people convicted of domestic violence from owning firearms. Missouri isn't one of them. In Maine, Stephen Voisine and William Armstrong pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic assault and were later accused of other crimes. Investigators found weapons that both men, as domestic abusers, weren't allowed to have.

The men argued that because their pleas stemmed from "reckless" behavior, and not intentional assault, they should be allowed to keep the guns. On Monday, the court's 6-2 majority found that to be a distinction without a difference. The odd couple of Justices Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Thomas, whose interest in the case was such that during oral arguments on Feb. 29, he actually asked questions from the bench for the first time in 10 years, said someone shouldn't lose his right to own firearms for a misdemeanor. The usually reliably liberal Sotomayor agreed.

Here in Missouri you can't get a concealed weapons permit if you've been convicted of violence in the previous five years, but the bill that Nixon vetoed, Senate Bill 656, would have allowed you to carry it without a permit. The legislature has even tinkered with allowing people with nonviolent felony convictions to own guns, though the state Supreme Court eventually decided that's not what lawmakers and voters intended.

The legislature passed SB 656 allowing what gun extremists wrongly call "constitutional carry." It would have allowed — and still may, if lawmakers override Nixon's veto in September — people to carry guns openly, without a permit, without passing a training course, anywhere concealed weapons are not prohibited. Among the bill's other dangerous provisions: Anyone, anywhere, who felt threatened could use deadly force.

Missourians who want sensible gun laws should make sure their lawmakers know they'll be watching their override votes in September with an eye to the November election. Missourians aren't extreme. Their gun laws shouldn't be either.

REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

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