Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Human Right to Personal Security: Guns and Friedman v City of Highland Park

Article 3 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights addresses the right to personal security.  At the moment, many Americans believe that our government is not sufficiently focused on making its residents secure, at least when it comes to the risk of gun violence. 

This week the U.S. Supreme Court was the first branch to take effective steps toward addressing individual security. And those steps were noted in what the Court refused to do.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a case challenging a Chicago suburb’s ordinance banning the possession of assault weapons.  According to a NY Times article, the ordinance specifically bans AR-15s and AK-47s. But the ordinance also generally bans possession of "assault weapons, defining them as semiautomatic guns that can accept large-capacity magazines and have features like a grip for the nontrigger hand. Large-capacity magazines are those that can accept more than 10 rounds." Since a federal assault weapons and high capacity magazines ban expired in 2004, the nation has been plagued by mass murders.  The Highland Park ordinance was enacted in response to the Sandyhook slaughter and Highland Park's opposition to the court's granting cert was based on the danger posed by assault weapons to the general public, exemplified by notorious recent public mass killings.  Relying on language in Heller that no right is unlimited, the Town argued that because only a certain category of weapons were banned under the ordinance, no violation of the second amendment existed.  

Those challenging the ordinance relied upon the right to protect self and family members, as well as Heller's affirmation of the right of individuals to keep handguns in their homes, as encompassing the sort of automatic weapons prohibited in Highland Park.  Two chilling statements are found in the questions posed in petitioners' brief requesting cert.  The first is that the automatic weapons banned by Highland Park are among the most popular weapons in the United States and secondly, that the ammunition magazines in question make up over half of the nation's privately owned ammunition stock.  Machine gun ammunition belt Stock Images

While the Petitioner argues that the ordinance bans responsible, law-abiding adults from possession of automatic weapons, the petitioners also define the problem.   To date, the government has been unwilling to impose screening requirements sufficient to determine who is responsible and law-abiding.  To do so adequately would require mental health screening and certainly take much longer than 3 days, a time limit beyond which Congress has been unwilling to extend for background checks.

Apparently the Supreme Court has recognized the dilemma.  In denying cert the Court has also signaled that it is not willing to affirmatively wade into the gun controversy at a time of intense social debate.  But in refusing to grant cert, the Court has weighed in.

Guns, Margaret Drew | Permalink


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