It’s been less than a year since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Heller decision affirming the principle that the 2nd Amendment does indeed protect an individual right to keep and bear arms, and that the right it thus protects is a fundamental right. The High Court last June clearly established: (1) that we — the people — possess an individual right to own firearms; (2) that this fundamental right pre-dated the Constitution (in other words, the 2nd Amendment does not grant us the right, it merely protects it); and (3) that a state government (or, in the facts of the case itself, the District of Columbia) cannot so restrict the right that it in essence nullifies it.
Now, in an April 20th decision, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (in a case out of Alameda County, California) has already muddied the 2nd Amendment picture clarified by the Heller decision. The circuit court did this by holding that the county government may prohibit firearms anywhere on property owned by the county (including guns shows at facilities owned by the county).
Actually, the fact that we’re already witnessing confusion being sown involving the scope of the 2nd Amendment and of the extent to which it may permissibly be limited, should surprise no one. There are hundreds if not thousands of local governments spread across the 50 states that are governed by anti-firearms advocates, who will zealously continue their efforts to limit to the greatest extent they are able the ability of citizens to possess firearms of various types, in various quantities, and in various locations.
At any rate, because the Supreme Court last year left open the question of the precise manners in which governments may impose restrictions on the exercise of the 2nd Amendment by the citizenry, such challenges as was ruled on in the Alameda County case by the 9th Circuit, will likely become more commonplace as the precise extent of the Heller ruling is challenged.
However, the 9th Circuit decision did reach one other, and very important conclusion. Even though the court did find that a county government can bar possession of firearms anywhere on its property (very broadly defined), the circuit panel did agree that the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment (which protects a person from having their life, liberty or property taken without due process of the law) does incorporate the 2nd Amendment’s guarantee of the right to possess a firearm. As the NRA noted in a press release discussing the decision, this conclusion is an important precedent.
So, inside this dark cloud of an opinion — which allows a local government to deny a fundamental right simply because a person happens to be in or even walk across property owned by the local government entity — is a silver lining. Perhaps if we have more court decisions with such silver linings, in the not-too-distant future, citizens all across America will be able to enjoy the practical manifestation of the fundamental right recognized in the Heller decision — not just those of us lucky enough to live in communities not governed by anti-gun advocates.