No less than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made clear in his famous 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller ruling that, like other cherished amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Second is not without its limits. While vigorously defending Americans’ right to maintain weapons for self-defense, the conservative jurist wrote that the Second Amendment and its legal precedents are “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
With that as a constitutional foundation, let us praise Republican Congressman Bill Flores and Sen. John Cornyn, both of Texas, for suggesting consideration of a federal ban of the type of gun attachment that allowed a 64-year-old gunman to essentially convert semi-automatic weaponry into a type largely forbidden to private citizens by federal law. The lawmakers demonstrate courage rare for Republicans these days.
Rep. Flores’ support for a ban on “bump stocks” and Cornyn’s talk of legislative hearings on these attachments appeared to come even before the National Rifle Association surprised everyone last week by urging that the Trump administration study regulating bump stocks. By using such attachments, Stephen Paddock was able to up his number of “kills” when he began firing on some 22,000 folks at a country music concert in Las Vegas. Thanks to technology that allows guns to function like military-style automatic weapons, Paddock’s victims below were like proverbial fish in a barrel.
Yes, some gun enthusiasts lost no time protesting, insisting any ban erodes their rights. But their arguments — including that this is a prelude to the confiscation of their guns — ignore Justice Scalia’s legal insistence that limits to the Second Amendment can apply to “dangerous and unusual weapons.” So if automatic weapons are largely banned from public purchase and an attachment can convert a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic one, has the law in effect been subverted? Most reasonable folks would say so.
Trump administration spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway similarly lost no time after the Las Vegas massacre blasting the Obama administration for allowing the sale of bump stocks through the latter’s interpretation of the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act. Sen. Cornyn has now asked the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to go back and review this interpretation and explain. “Unfortunately,” Cornyn added, “we are all now keenly aware of how this device operates and believe that this renewed review and determination will keep our citizens safe and ensure that federal law is enforced.”
It would seem some Republicans have drawn a line in the sand regarding the very limits Justice Scalia cited less than a decade ago. We’ll see if this line holds. As for gun fanatics on this issue, we quote a wit commenting on a number of them attacking Flores on his Facebook page: “Look, I gotta agree with all these other fine fellows, Rep. Flores: If people don’t want to see their families murdered by a spray of bullets totally at random, then they can get the heck out of this country! You can’t just take away rights to prevent innocent people from dying in droves on a daily basis. It’s un-American!”