Constitution Daily

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Mass shootings renew Second Amendment weapons debate

December 14, 2012 by Scott Bomboy


The mass killings at a Connecticut elementary school on Friday will likely renew a serious national debate about an assault weapons ban and the Second Amendment.

Soviet-era assault weapons.

Reports from Newtown, Connecticut, indicate as many 30 people, including 18 children, died when a man opened fire with some type of weapon inside the school.

Multiple shots were fired by a man who was dressed in assault gear, who had three weapons.

The shooting comes right after another man opened fire inside an Oregon mall on Tuesday in an incident that left three people dead. The gun used in the shooting, an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, jammed during the attack, and it was a stolen weapon.

Since April, there have been mass killings in Oakland, California (7 dead); Aurora, Colorado (12 dead); Oak Creek, Wisconsin (6 dead); Minneapolis (5 dead); Brookfield, Wisconsin (3 dead); Portland, Oregon (2 dead); and Newtown, Connecticut (27 dead).

Talk of renewing the national Federal Assault Weapons ban, which expired in 2004, was being debated after the Clackamas Town Center shooting, and there will be more discussion about asking Congress to pass a stricter ban, with no time limit.

But the path of the any Assault Weapons ban becoming a reality faces several major obstructions.

First, gun ownership is at the core of the Constitution’s Second Amendment, which grants citizens the rights to bear arms.

When the original Federal Assault Weapons ban was passed in 1994, gun rights groups decided not to pursue a challenge through the court system.

An August 2012 analysis from Politico shows that given the recent history of assault weapon court cases, there is a strong indication that the NRA would pursue a Second Amendment challenge up to the Supreme Court—if a national law were passed again.

And based on a 2008 Supreme Court decision, the fate of a Federal Assault Weapons case in front of the court could be problematic.

The decision in District of Columbia v. Heller found that while citizens had the right to keep guns for self-defense, the court also agreed with an older ruling that “finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”

That ruling was restricted to people who lived in federal enclaves.

A subsequent ruling in 2010 that reinforced the right of gun ownership and that it extended to states and towns.

But for any challenge to take place to a national gun law, Congress would have to pass a new law first.

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Aside from the logistics of defining what an assault weapon is, there are also the simple numbers of the Republican Party controlling the House. Passing a law would require a dramatic shift away from past GOP doctrines about the Second Amendment.

And until the recent presidential campaign, President Barack Obama didn’t talk much about an assault weapons ban.

The assault weapons ban came up in the second debate with Mitt Romney, when President Obama said he supported it. But in the past four years, gun laws weren’t a priority for his administration.

Given the current membership numbers in Congress, the Democrats would likely need to take control of the House in 2014 to get some traction on a new assault weapons law.

On Friday, the White House repeated that President Barack Obama would consider a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, echoing his remarks at the October debate.

A more likely challenge would be from the lower court system, and with it, the chance of the Supreme Court deciding to hear an appeal.

There are several cases in the lower court system involving assault weapons bans already imposed locally. One case in Illinois is still in the court system, specifically dealing with a ban on assault weapons.

Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.

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