There has been another school shooting, this time in Newtown, Connecticut at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, leaving 20 children and 6 adults dead. Most of the dead were kindergartners. These horrific slayings are reminiscent of other mass killings committed for no apparent reason:
- April 20, 1999 in Columbine, CO, killing 11 children, 1 adult, and injuring 21 others;
- April, 16 2007 in Blacksburg, VA, killing 32 and injuring 17;
- January 8, 2011 in Tucson, AZ, killing 6 and wounding 13 others;
- December 11, 2012 in Clackamas, OR, killing 2 and wounding 1;
- August 5, 2012 in Milwalkee, WI, killing 6 and wounding 3;
- July 20, 2012 in Aurora, CO, leaving 12 dead and 59 injured.
While President Obama and other politicians have stated that it is too soon to discuss gun control in light of the slayings, this tragedy forces that issue back into our collective, national consciousness.
The Right to Keep and Bear Arms: The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
For over 200 years, it had not been certain whether the Second Amendment provides a right for individuals to keep and bear arms, or whether this right extends only in the context of state militias. However, in the 2008 United States Supreme Court decision District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court held that the Second Amendment provides a constitutional right for individuals, who are not connected to a militia, to keep and bear arms:
The “right of the people,” for instance, was found in other places in the Constitution to speak to individual rights, not to collective rights (those that can only be exercised by participation in a corporate body.
Two years later, the Court expounded on this right, saying in McDonald v. Chicago that the individual right to gun ownership under the Second Amendment places limits on state and local gun control laws.
An individual’s right to possess firearms, however, is not absolute. Federal, state and local governments may permissibly regulate the purchase, possession and use of firearms, most specifically regarding:
- felons and the mentally ill;
- carrying firearms in schools;
- government buildings, parks and other public areas; and
- guns sales, including background checks, waiting periods and licensing requirements.
The Court noted, however, that the Second Amendment does not protect the right to keep and bear “dangerous and unusual weapons.”
Connecticut Gun Ownership: Connecticut has a long and rich history related to the right to bear arms. Samuel Colt, a Connecticut resident, invented the automatic revolver, and Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin, was a Connecticut gun manufacturer.
Connecticut has among the lowest gun death rates in the nation, behind only Hawaii, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and has relatively low rates of gun ownership, about 16-percent of households.
In Connecticut, rifles and shotguns can be purchased by anyone, without the need for a state permit. Any person over 21 can also possess and carry such firearms without a permit or license. But in order to carry handguns in Connecticut, a person must apply for an initial purchasing permit, obtain a carry license, and undergo a background checks and fingerprinting.
Regulation: In America, we regulate, test for, and license the possession and use of cars, motorcycles and airplanes. We regulate, test and license hairdressers, acupuncturists and masseurs. We regulate, inspect and license businesses — from bars that serve alcohol to pushcarts that sell hotdogs to kids who run lemonade stands. We regulate and license the right to fish in a pond, to own a pet, to run a daycare or marry a person.
Clearly, in light of so many innocent deaths, there is room to improve our laws — or enforce our laws — to help prevent tragedies similar to the killings in Sandy Hook Elementary.