The gun grabbers in Washington are celebrating a federal ruling handed down Friday that upheld the tangle of rules that effectively prohibit District residents from owning firearms for the purpose of home defense.
While the Supreme Court in its landmark 2008 Heller decision recognized the individual’s right to own a gun, it also conceded that reasonable regulations on gun ownership might be acceptable. U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina took this concession as a green light to approve D.C. rules designed to create a gun ownership ban in everything but name. The District outlawed semiautomatic pistols, instantly removing the vast majority of handguns sold in the United States from the reach of law-abiding residents. Guns that can hold more than 10 bullets are also prohibited. What few remain must be stored unloaded, disabled and unusable for any reasonable form of self-defense. Judge Urbina ruled that all of these onerous restrictions were justified by “public safety concerns.”
The decision will almost certainly be appealed, but that, too, may place gun ownership rights in further jeopardy as the case record appears flawed in one critical respect.
Stephen P. Halbrook, the attorney who filed this suit against the District, correctly argued that gun ownership for the purpose of self-defense is a fundamental right. Such rights compel the courts to apply a “strict scrutiny” to restrictive laws to ensure that they are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest. Gun control advocates insist that public safety is just such an interest, but Mr. Halbrook declined to cite the direct empirical evidence needed to establish a record for higher courts on whether gun control reduces crime. Under strict scrutiny, such laws must be struck down unless the District can show that gun control is essential to reducing crime rates.
Mr. Halbrook’s reluctance to cite the empirical evidence explicitly linking guns and crime is unfortunate because gun control laws have demonstrably failed to yield any of the benefits promised. Take the regulations on which Judge Urbina ruled. The evidence shows that rules increasing the cost and burdens of handgun ownership make crime more likely. Books such as “The Bias Against Guns” and “More Guns, Less Crime” show that gunlocks, assault-weapon bans and registration rules do not lower crime rates and might instead increase them.
This result is not surprising. Requiring homeowners to keep guns locked and unloaded prevents the law-abiding from having accessible self-defense measures. This merely emboldens criminals to go after people in their homes with an increased chance of success.
Criminologists and other researchers have found no evidence in the vast academic literature that assault-weapon bans and magazine limitations at either the state or federal level have had any effect on reducing violent crime. Despite portrayals on TV crime shows, gun registration in reality fails to help solve crimes. In theory, if a registered gun were left at the scene, it could be traced back to its owner. However, crime guns are rarely left at the scene. When they are, they are not registered to the criminals who committed the crime.
Failing to take advantage of this powerful evidentiary record weakens the gun rights case in the event that a higher court uses a “balancing test” to weigh the arguments. The situation is even more precarious as the Obama administration continues to pack the appellate courts with anti-gun judges who think like Judge Urbina, a Clinton appointee. In many ways, the upcoming Senate elections could be just as important to preserving the Second Amendment as they will be about health care.