Brian Doherty on How Gun Controllers Deliberately Underestimate What's at Stake


In Michael Waldman's lauded new book, The Second Amendment: A Biography, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University makes a strange error. In Waldman's merely two sentences explaining what was at issue in the case that has defined the modern meaning of the Second Amendment, 2008's D.C. v. Heller, he seems strangely ignorant—or wants his readers to stay strangely ignorant—about exactly what law the case challenged.

He writes that the D.C. statutes overturned by plaintiff Dick Heller "barred individuals from keeping a loaded handgun at home without a trigger lock." In a later sentence he again refers merely to "the ban on loaded handguns."

This is quite off-target, observes Senior Editor Brian Doherty. The laws challenged in Heller did not merely ban the possession of a loaded handgun without a trigger lock. They banned the registration of any handgun that you hadn't already registered before the restrictive statutes went into effect in 1976. They also banned owning unregistered handguns. That means D.C. law banned handguns entirely for anyone who hadn't been grandfathered in decades before.

The style of that mistake is telling about the modern fight over gun rights: Those who advocate gun control prefer to greatly understate the importance of what's at stake. In doing so, Doherty argues, they help ensure their own political weakness.