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Gun rights decision may sound the death knell for gun bans

By Steve Simpson
web posted October 29, 2001

It has long been an article of faith among gun controllers that the Second Amendment merely protects the right of states to maintain and arm militias. Proponents of this "collective rights" argument contend that, while members of the National Guard may possess guns, everyone else can be disarmed.

Gun control myths die hard, but this one may finally be on its last legs. On October 16th, the collective rights theory suffered its harshest blow yet when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held in U.S. v. Emerson that the Second Amendment was intended to do precisely what it says: guarantee an individual right to bear arms. After clarifying a widely misinterpreted Supreme Court case from 1939, the court carefully analyzed the text and history of the Second Amendment and concluded that the "collective rights" position was untenable. It remains to be seen what the ultimate impact of the decision will be, but it does not bode well for future efforts to disarm Americans.

It is fitting that Emerson should be decided at a time when Americans seem more concerned about defending themselves than at anytime in recent memory. In the wake of the terrorist attacks, Americans are buying guns in droves, and a recent Zogby opinion poll indicates that a majority support the right to carry guns for self defense.

It is also fitting that the decision should come during a year of serious setbacks for gun controllers. They lost important allies in the White House and Justice Department with the election of George W. Bush. Efforts to cripple gun makers with liability lawsuits have largely failed, with most of the suits being dismissed. And gun control organizations are experiencing hard times. The Million Mom March organizers closed their doors and merged with Handgun Control, Inc. The new organization, which changed its name to the "Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence" in an effort to soften its public image, recently laid off nearly 20 per cent of its workers.

Of course, gun controllers are not retreating yet. They have never been particularly sensitive to the harsh realities of life and it is unlikely that recent events will change that. Indeed, at least one organization has tried to spin the Emerson decision as a victory, and the terrorist attacks seem to have left many gun controllers in a state of denial. A Washington Post editorial recently wondered how safe we would all be "surrounded by edgy people with guns . . . but little or no weapons training." Luis Tolley, a director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, commented to the LA Times that "the last thing people want is to have to worry about whether the guy sitting next to them at a Dodgers game is carrying a gun."

In fact, it seems clear that the last thing Americans want these days is to be caught unprepared to defend themselves in a crisis. Compare the Los Angeles riots, where only armed Korean grocers were able to defend themselves, with the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, where looting was virtually nonexistent because South Floridians were armed to the teeth. In both cases, the police were powerless to protect people. Americans seem to have learned an important lesson from these events that gun controllers refuse to face: in times of crisis, you are on your own.

Perhaps the gun controllers' refusal to face reality will finally usher in their undoing. The aftermath of September 11th has seen many politically-correct chickens come home to roost. The impact of leftist mischief is being felt in our military and intelligence communities, police forces, and most notably in schools and on college campuses. While foolish policies are the result of bad ideas that must be defeated on their merits (or lack thereof), a necessary first step is to expose the fools who hold them. It may seem ridiculous to argue that disarming Americans is a sensible solution to crime after terrorists armed only with box cutters were able to pull off the worst attack in American history. But gun controllers -- bless their hearts -- are still trying, and we can thank them for continuing to press the party line in the face of all good sense.

While the Emerson decision is not likely to end efforts to disarm Americans, it may very well mark the beginning of the end of such efforts. For the sake of freedom, honesty, and good sense, we can only hope that it does.

Steve Simpson is an attorney in Washington, D.C. E-mail him at ssimpson@ij.org.

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