From Volume 89, Number 6 (September 2016)
The regulation of firearms is one of the most volatile policy issues in the United States. Virtually every effort to regulate—or deregulate—the accessibility or usage of firearms raises dueling concerns of public safety and individual rights. Federal courts are no exception to the controversy, offering a microcosm of the broader public debate. The Supreme Court’s sharply divided decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago are illustrative of the point; while Heller established the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in the individual context, and McDonald extended the right as fundamental and binding on the states, the decisions did little to fix the scope and magnitude of the newly created right, leaving it open to spirited debate. In the wake of the two decisions, lower courts have been left to grapple with how far and with what rigor to scrutinize state and local laws that may burden the right to keep and bear arms.
People may kill and injure people, but guns appear to be a weapon of choice. In the United States alone, there are over 32,000 firearm-related deaths annually and an additional 78,000 persons are injured as a result of interpersonal firearm violence. While a significant portion of the casualties are attributable to suicides, accidents, law enforcement, or self-defense, an appreciable portion are the product of criminal activity. Although exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, the Department of Justice estimates that each year, approximately 470,000 persons become victims of a crime committed with a firearm. But perhaps the most visible manifestations of gun violence are “mass shooting” incidents, drawing substantial media coverage and public concern. These variables, among others, animate concerns of public safety, giving rise to policy arguments for more stringent regulations of firearms.