Will Heller Help Gun Control Advocates?

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THE PLANK JULY 16, 2008

Will Heller Help Gun Control Advocates?

Dennis Henigan of the Brady Center has a thoughtful essay up on Cato Unbound, in which he identifies what he calls the "Heller paradox." By shutting the door completely on the nightmare scenario of a total ban on guns, while at the same time declaring less draconian regulations "presumptively lawful," Heller could actually help generate momentum for such laws:

One of the gun lobby’s core arguments against reasonable gun laws is
that every new restriction on guns is but a step down the “slippery
slope” to gun confiscation and thus is a threat to ordinary gun owners. ... [T]he gun lobby needs the debate to be about banning guns
that are commonly used by law-abiding Americans. By erecting a
constitutional barrier to a broad gun ban, the Heller ruling
may have flattened the gun lobby’s “slippery slope,” making it harder
for the NRA to use fear tactics to motivate gun owners to give their
time, money and votes in opposing sensible gun laws and the candidates
who support those laws. This is especially true since the majority of
gun owners support reasonable gun control proposals on their merits. A
recent poll shows that 83% of gun owners support closing the “gun show
loophole” by extending Brady background checks to private sales at gun
shows.

I have my doubts as to whether this will come to pass, at least in the short term. It seems like there's just no appetite among Democratic politicians even for gun control measures that are popular and constitutional, since the public discourse right now is so toxic. As the inimitable Dave "Mudcat" Saunders told Matt Labash, "with a slogan like 'Close the gun show loophole,' what are the first four words of that? 'Close the gun show.' Bubba...doesn't need to hear 'loophole,' after he's heard the first four words." I don't really see how Heller changes that argument; after all, it's not as though the prospect of an all-out ban was ever remotely plausible (outside of D.C., anyway), but it still had emotional resonance. Maybe eventually we'll get to a point where proposals can be evaluated on their own merits, but it's not likely to happen anytime soon.

--Josh Patashnik 

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