Law & Disorder: Gun control returns to the Supreme Court

A picture of the Supreme Court building with its roof edited off and a gun peaking out of it.
(Alyssa Shao | Daily Trojan)

After over a decade of staying silent in the Supreme Court, the gun control debate has returned. The 2008 landmark case District of Columbia v. Heller was the last time the Supreme Court specified the Second Amendment’s meaning. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled in favor of a broader definition for the Second Amendment, which “guarantees an individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.” 

As stated by Time Magazine, the case “changed a nearly 70-year precedent set by [United States v. Miller] in 1939.” The decision followed the collective rights theory, which refers to the Second Amendment as a state’s right to defend itself rather than an individual right. While the case broadened gun ownership rights, it still left room for state gun regulations. However, with the issue back and in the hands of a more conservative court, we should be concerned.

On Nov. 3 in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. argued the constitutionality of New York’s concealed firearm law, which requires “proper cause” for self-protection to obtain a concealed firearm license. 

The NYSRPA and other right-to-carry law proponents argue that the New York legislature infringes on their Second Amendment right. Because of the Constitution’s majestic generality and the document’s ingrained gun ownership statutes, the law’s constitutionality has no right answer. But, when we look at our stakes, the right answer exists: prioritizing the safety and livelihood of the public. 

In California, county sheriffs have jurisdiction over who can obtain a concealed carry permit with the need to self-protect, similar to the New York law. However, simply citing fear of crime isn’t an approved reason to obtain a concealed carry permit. 

Over the past few years, California has done a suitable job in passing numerous restrictions on firearms. With a Gifford Rating of an A and a firearm death rate of 7.8%, California is a prime example of the strong positive correlation between strict state gun laws and lower overall firearm fatality rates. 

However, gun violence is a multifaceted problem, and with limited direct measures of gun prevalence, researchers cannot fully assess the relationship between firearm prevalence and violent crime on a nationwide scale. Various studies conducted by RAND Corporation have found limited or inconclusive evidence of a relationship between stronger study designs and improved survey data on gun ownership and use. 

However, by using a synthetic control approach combined with decades of crime data, Stanford Law Professor John Donohue found evidence that “strongly confirms that [right-to-carry] laws are associated with 13 to 15% higher aggregate violent crime rates 10 years after adoption.” In his study, he further states, “There is not even the slightest hint in the data that [right-to-carry] laws reduce overall violent crime.” Donohue’s research further confirms that in considering the pros and cons of right-to-carry laws, the cons greatly outweigh the pros. 

Everytown Research & Policy defines right-to-carry laws as laws that allow gun owners to “carry a concealed gun in public with no permit and no training.” Many argue that these laws allow self-protection and provide a solution to high rates of violent crimes. 

However, as Donohue’s study showed, these laws do nothing to create safe streets and inadequately protect gun owners, completely undermining public safety. If anything, carrying a concealed firearm increases fatality rates. Research conducted by Everytown Research & Policy shows the same trends: “States that have passed permitless carry legislation [experienced] a substantial increase in gun violence.” 

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health further shows that “most purported self-defense gun uses are gun uses in escalating arguments” and “firearms are used far more often to intimidate than in self-defense.”

Even if the Supreme Court were to apply strict scrutiny — which the First Amendment Encyclopedia defines as “the highest form of review courts use to evaluate the constitutionality of laws” — the New York concealed carry law still survives. When considering all the aforementioned research, the government has compelling reasons to enact gun regulation laws. 

Furthermore, in his dissent to Heller, Justice Paul Stevens wrote, “While [the Second Amendment] empowered Congress to organize, arm, and discipline the militia, it did not prevent Congress from providing for the militia’s disarmament.” In other words, the Second Amendment does not justify an unlimited right to bear arms.

Point blank: there is no need for concealed carry. The goal is not to infringe upon anyone’s fundamental rights rather it is to create safer communities with lower rates of violent crimes through gun safety laws. 

The Justices have until June — the end of the court’s term — to make a decision. With its decision setting the precedent for all current and future gun regulations, the Supreme Court could set unimaginable consequences in motion.

Helen Nguyen is a junior writing about law and social issues. Her column, “Law & Disorder,” usually runs every other Monday.