Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Supreme Court Battle Over Gun Rights:Crime will be the argument on both sides!

Linda Greenhouse delivers up a fascinating overview of the gun rights case that is likely to be among the most awaited of this term's Supreme Court docket (read her analysis here). The case presents the gun debate in its most iconic form since the DC law at issue, which dates back to 1976, bars gun ownership anywhere in the District, including in a private home. If the Supreme Court strikes the law down they will break new ground by holding that the 2nd Amendment creates a personal right to possess fire-arms. Such a decision will open up many questions to keep lawyers busy in terms of the standard by which regulations short of prohibition must be judged.

The case will also give the country a chance to talk about gun-control during a Presidential election and in the midst of an alarming surge in violence in many large cities after more than a decade of dramatic declines in crime (see my colleague Frank Zimring's definitive book on the topic).

It is an equally good time to note that both sides in this long running culture war are highly motivated by fear of crime and both gun control and gun rights belong to what I have called "Governing through Crime." The gun control advocates will argue that DC's city council was well motivated to respond to an epoch plague of gun violence which was (and is again) threatening the vitality of American cities. Gun rights advocates will argue that DC's high crime rate and poor police success at clearing homicides, warrants permitting citizens to defend themselves (at least in the sanctity of their homes). With fear of crime driving both sides of the debates, expect any decision to set off further alarms about crime.

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