Who Will Defend the Right to Pass Oppressive Laws?


Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, complains that D.C. v. Heller "strips the citizens of the District of Columbia of a law they strongly support," a revealing formulation. For Helmke, it's no problem when the government strips citizens of their rights, as long as a majority favors the policy. When those rights are restored, however, he's outraged that the majority's tyranny has been thwarted. Would he apply a similar logic to First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment rights?

Helmke is on to something here, however:

For years, the gun lobby has used fear of government gun confiscation to thwart efforts to pass sensible gun laws, arguing that even modest gun laws will lead down the path to a complete ban on gun ownership. Now that the Court has struck down the District's ban on handguns, while making it clear that the Constitution allows for reasonable restrictions on access to dangerous weapons, this 'slippery slope' argument is gone….

Proposals such as requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales, limiting bulk sales of handguns, and strengthening the power of federal authorities to shut down corrupt gun dealers can now be debated on their merits without distractions of fear or ideology. 

Gun controllers whose ambitions stop short of D.C.-style prohibition may indeed face less intense opposition. Meanwhile, the perceived need to defend firearm laws against a post-Heller legal assault will energize gun control supporters and could be a fund raising bonanza for groups like the Brady Center, which hit me up for money when I tried to click through to Helmke's press release.