Whenever I write about gun control, I like to start with this quote:
“Like most rights, the rights secured by the Second Amendment are not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th Century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. … Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
Right now, some of y’all are probably grinding your teeth, wondering what weak-knee, latte-sipping left-winger would dare write such a thing. Bet you’ll be surprised to find out the author was none other than Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most influential Constitutional constructionists to sit on the United States Supreme Court in a generation. He wrote those words for the majority decision in District of Columbia vs. Heller, considered one of the landmark Supreme Court decisions on the Second Amendment.
“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons.”
Can’t get much clearer than that – even while every citizen has the right to own a gun, that right can be removed based on a citizen’s behavior. States can absolutely keep guns away from individuals convicted of felonies. Even the most conservative justices have found this to be true. It is on page 54 of the decision, for those of you who are now googling the case because you don’t believe it.
Does the law go any further? As a matter of fact, it does. Federal law states that a citizen’s Second Amendment right to bear arms can be revoked if they are convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence. Several states also have laws to this effect. Those laws have been challenged several times, the most recent in the 2015 Voisine Et Al vs. the United States case where the Supreme Court voted 6-2 to affirm that yes, domestic violence misdemeanors count, even if the individuals convicted were only acting recklessly and not intentionally.
In my personal opinion, this is good law. We hear an awful lot of overwrought emotional punditry about “good guys with guns.” I don’t believe the Venn diagram circle of “good guys” lines up too closely with the circle of “domestic violence convicts,” nor should it. Someone convicted of domestic violence shouldn’t whine that the law says they aren’t mature enough to own a firearm. If a jury in a court of law finds someone guilty of physical altercations with people they live in a home with, that someone should not own a gun.
They ought not bring the Constitution into the argument, either. This is Federal law that passed Congress and survived multiple challenges to a conservative Supreme Court. Let’s not pretend there’s any Second Amendment ground to stand on with this. If there was, this wouldn’t be the law.
But it is the law. More than that, it is also state law in Louisiana. Act 195 was signed into law in 2014 as legislation introduced by New Orleans area State Representative Helena Moreno and State Senator JP Morrell. Individuals convicted of domestic abuse battery lose their rights to possess firearms or carry concealed for 10 years, and if someone so convicted is found violating that law they can be charged with a felony. Additionally, judges have the power to demand individuals under a temporary restraining order surrender their firearms for the duration of the order.
The big question is: how are we doing keeping guns out of the hands of individuals who are not legally allowed to own or possess firearms? Are our own laws being enforced in Louisiana? Are they being enforced in New Orleans?
The simple eyeball test screams “Hell No.” New Orleans has one of the highest national murder rates per capita, and we read endless reports of how individuals convicted of murder had a prior domestic violence conviction on their record. They should not have been able to get a gun with that conviction on their record.
Related to those awful statistics, Louisiana is constantly in the top 5 states for domestic violence. The gun control advocates at the Violence Policy Center conducted research on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports and found that in 2014, of 51 women killed by men in Louisiana, 33 were killed by a partner in a current or former intimate relationship, and 21 of those victims were killed by guns.
The report does not include how many of those incidents involved individuals with a prior domestic violence conviction on their record which would have made it illegal for them to own or possess a firearm. I think if anyone looked at those statistics, the data would tell us one very critical fact about shootings and murders in New Orleans: if we kept guns out of the hands of domestic violence convicts, we could prevent shootings and murders. When I type that, it reads like common sense. Sometimes it is worth stating the obvious.
I got a chance to ask Representative Moreno about this when she spoke at the March meeting of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization. My concern is that law enforcement could enforce this law more effectively, and that doing so could go a long way in counteracting our citywide spike in violent crime. She responded that she is investigating strategies that would make it more practical for local law enforcement to do so.
To follow up, I asked the same question at City Councilmember Susan Guidry’s District A Public Safety Townhall last week. NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison responded that while NOPD can confiscate firearms at the scene of a domestic violence incident, they would need a search warrant and probable cause to seize a domestic violence convict’s firearms at any other time.
That sounds doable to me. We have a District Attorney in New Orleans and a State Attorney General in Baton Rouge who like to talk tough on law and order. Seems to me both individuals could make a point to get a task force working on this particular legal issue. Louisiana law says domestic violence convicts have to give up their guns. Laws like these have been ruled Constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States of America. I absolutely believe NOPD is ready to take action that helps prevent violent crime instead of just pick up the pieces after another tragic night. All the pieces are in place for Louisiana to enact what Justice Scalia called longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms, and we start by enforcing our own laws.
Patrick Armstrong lives in Mid-City and has been a NOLA TrashMOB volunteer for 3 years. His views are his own and do not reflect official positions of any organizations or groups he is a part of. He posts inane musings on Twitter @panarmstrong.