The editorial board of USA Today has never been what you’d call Second Amendment-friendly but their most recent editorial takes their anti-gun advocacy to a whole new level. According to the paper’s editors, sweeping bans on the most popular center-fire rifle in the United States and mandating waiting periods to purchase firearms could be done without impacting the Second Amendment rights of citizens.
It’s an argument that makes sense only if you don’t believe the Second Amendment protects an actual right at all, and in fact the editors hardly mention the Constitution in their piece. Instead, polling and their own personal opinions are the chief evidence they provide for the constitutionality of their anti-gun proposals.
The man charged in the Atlanta-area shootings, Robert Aaron Long, 21, bought a 9mm handgun just hours before he went on a shooting spree at three spas, killing eight people, including six Asian women, according to police. He walked into a firearms dealership in Cherokee County and walked out in a matter of minutes. (A Slate analysis points out that it takes at least 24 hours to obtain an abortion in Georgia, the delay designed at least in part to dissuade the applicant.)
Gun-rights advocates will complain that rights delayed are rights denied. That fits on a bumper sticker. But it doesn’t make true sense if someone acquires a purchased firearm a few days after paying for it. There’s no practical difference.
If there’s no practical difference, then why impose a waiting period? It’s a nonsensical claim. Of course there’s a practical difference- the difference between obtaining a gun and being forced to wait for an arbitrary amount of time before you can pick it up.
How long of a wait are the editors of USA Today calling for? They don’t say, though they approvingly cite California’s ten-day waiting period, which they claim has reduced both homicides and suicides by 17%. Never mind the fact that Texas, which has no waiting period, has roughly the same homicide rate as California, which has a 10-day waiting period. One study is enough to convince the editors that waiting periods impose no burden on law-abiding gun owners.
What about a longer delay? In Illinois, for example, the State Police are currently taking more than 100 days to process Firearm Owner ID cards, which are a requirement before someone can legally purchasing a gun. Does that lengthy delay mean that rights are being denied, or is it still just a bumper sticker slogan?
If you’re in need of a firearm for personal protection (which admittedly, may not be something that the USA Today editors have ever had to deal with), waiting 3, 4, 10, or 100 days could very well put someone at risk. Case in point: Carol Bowne, a New Jersey woman who was fatally stabbed by her ex-boyfriend weeks after she’d applied for a permit to own a gun. Her abusive ex didn’t need a gun to take her life, but Bowne was unable to get a gun to protect herself thanks to the draconian permitting system in New Jersey that forced her to delay exercising her rights for months. Her right to keep and bear arms wasn’t just delayed, it was denied to her, because she was killed before the local police ever got around to approving her application.
Next, the editors at USA Today claim that banning modern sporting rifles pose no threat to our right to keep and bear arms, though the only legal evidence they can muster is one line from the majority opinion in the Heller decision.
The late Justice Antonin Scalia famously wrote in 2008 the the freedom granted under the Second Amendment is “not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever.”
While Scalia did say that, the Supreme Court has also said that arms that are in common use for a variety of lawful purposes are protected by the Second Amendment, and while they haven’t specifically ruled on a ban on modern sporting rifles, the fact that these guns are commonly owned by millions of Americans for self-defense, hunting, recreation, and competitive shooting places them squarely under the protection of the right to keep and bear arms.
Gun-rights advocates will say assault-style rifles are fun and popular, vital for target practice, self-defense and hunting. Any and all of that is outweighed by their potent capacity as a killing tool. (A citywide ban on the sales of assault-style weapons in Boulder was lifted by a judge 10 days before the shooting, about the time the gun used at the King Sooper was bought. It’s not clear in what jurisdiction the weapon was purchased.)
Bringing up Boulder’s gun ban only proves the shallowness of the editors’ argument. The suspect in the Boulder shootings didn’t live in the city, so it wouldn’t have mattered where the gun was purchased. The suspect also had a handgun, according to the police affidavit, and we know that mass murderers have used handguns in their crimes, including at Virginia Tech, were 32 people were killed.
Rifles are rarely used in crimes in this country. According to the FBI Uniform Crime report, in any given year about twice as many Americans are killed by someone using their fists or feet compared to someone using a rifle of any kind. In 2019 the FBI recorded 364 homicides in which a rifle was used as the murder weapon, and 600 homicides in which “personal weapons” such as hands, fists, and feet were the weapon of choice.
The USA Today editors fail to mention that more than 20-million semi-automatic rifles are legally possessed by Americans, I suspect because in their mind the ubiquitous nature of modern sporting rifles is simply another argument in favor of banning them, as opposed to recognizing that even if a ban were to be put in place, those guns aren’t going anywhere.
Like it or not (and for the editors, it’s clear that they don’t like it), the Second Amendment protects our right to keep and bear arms, and attempts to restrict or ban commonly owned firearms or impose arbitrary waiting periods on legal gun purchasers does violate their rights, and both of the proposals offered by USA Today should be rejected out of hand.
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