Should Gun Laws Be Decided State by State?

If we can't reach a national consensus and the Supreme Court can't agree, it might be for each state to decide.  

The Supreme Court has decided not to hear a case challenging the assault weapon ban currently active in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago. The decision leaves in place a lower court ruling saying that local governments have the right to decide how they regulate firearms. They seem to be deferring to local choices over top-down reform. Currently seven states and the District of Columbia have bans on assault weapons.

Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia felt that the court should have heard the Highland Park case, but it’s nothing new for the Court to reject gun control cases in the past few years. In 2010, the court upheld an individual's right to bear arms, but only those maintained at home for self-defense. Since then, it hasn’t heard cases that reopen the issue of gun regulation.

We’ve heard a lot about the battle over gun legislation at the federal level. Recently, President Barack Obama gave an oval office address, in part to urge the nation to support new gun control legislation that would make it harder for individuals to get ahold of the kinds of powerful assault weapons that were used in the San Bernardino, California, mass shooting incident.

Yet despite having made similar appeals in the past, it appears that Obama’s message isn’t something that Congress can agree on. Many conservatives take the stance that stricter gun control laws would infringe on personal freedoms and would be ineffective at reducing gun violence. It seems unlikely that Republicans and Democrats will come to agree on the issue by the end of Obama’s last term in office, and the last national ban on assault weapons expired in 2004.

Congress’ perpetual deadlock can’t help but pose the question as to whether the battle over gun regulation will happen at a different level entirely. Similar to the eventual nationwide decision on same-sex marriage that came after many states decided on the issue for themselves, perhaps gun control is an issue that will be decided in smaller localities one at a time.

In the wake of mass shootings in San Bernardino and Newton, Connecticut, among many others, the issue of gun regulation is clearly one that invokes passion on all sides. But the Highland Park court case along with Congress’s deadlock seem to indicate that a conclusive decision on the matter from up top won’t be coming anytime soon. State by state, city by city, this issue might have to work itself out over time.


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