A Constitutional Case for Gun Control

Supreme Court briefs are not known for their colorful writing. Readers are far more likely to encounter austere Latin legalisms than gripping personal narratives. Yet March for Our Lives chose to upend this norm in its amicus brief—a legal filing written by an interested outside party—in the upcoming Supreme Court case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York. Its brief “presents the voices and stories of young people from Parkland, Florida, to South Central Los Angeles who have been affected directly and indirectly by gun violence.”

The Supreme Court confirmed earlier this month that it would hear the case later this term, its first gun-rights case in nearly a decade. At issue is whether a New York City regulation that prevents licensed gun owners from transporting their firearms to second homes or gun ranges outside the city runs afoul of the Second Amendment.

The stakes are high: The case offers the Court’s conservative wing a vehicle to further solidify legal barriers to firearm regulation, a decades-long project that has thus far been quite successful—in part due to the appeal of a unified constitutional narrative that pro-gun voices have invoked across both the legal and the political spheres. The Second Amendment, they say, protects an individual’s right to gun ownership, a right rooted in deeply held notions of self-defense and individual reliance.

For decades, gun-control advocates have left this narrative partially unanswered, offering depressing statistics but no compelling constitutional principle. They cannot afford to do so any longer. The March for Our Lives brief marks the beginning of a long-needed effort to offer a pro-gun-control constitutional narrative, one that calls attention to the constitutional rights and goods vindicated by gun regulation. These include a collective understanding of self-defense, as well as constitutional guarantees such as the right to public assembly and interests such as access to public education. The point is that the right to bear arms is not the only constitutional commitment implicated in the guns debate, and the Court ought to consider those other commitments as worth balancing with the right to bear arms, not as inherently subordinate to it.


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