Love ‘em or hate ‘em, firearms are always news. And guns are very much in the news this month. At the US Supreme Court last week, the nine justices heard oral arguments in a landmark lawsuit that will determine if Chicago’s draconian anti-gun ordinance passes muster, measured against the individual-right standard laid down by the Court in a Washington, DC case just two years ago.
On a more local level, in Starbucks Coffee houses across the country, Second Amendment passions are being fanned, as firearms-carry advocates and opponents battle over whether the java giant should retreat from its current policy of allowing patrons to openly carry handguns if permitted by state and local laws.
The Chicago gun case that the Supreme Court now will decide, follows the seminal case of District of Columbia v. Heller decided in June 2008. In that case, a DC ordinance identical to the one prohibiting Chicagoans from possessing handguns, was struck down as a violation of the Second Amendment’s guarantee that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The Court in Heller established definitively for the first time since the Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791, that the Second Amendment’s language in fact guaranteed an individual right to possess firearms. Previous court decisions had not made clear the distinction between the rights of an individual citizen in this regard, and rights enjoyed only by a collective body such as a “militia,” as gun control advocates had urged.
Left unresolved in the 2008 decision, however, were a number of important questions about just how far the individual right to own a firearm extended. For example, would the fact that the jurisdiction prohibiting possession of any handgun was a city or a state – as opposed to the federal enclave that is the District of Colombia – make a difference?
While Supreme Court observers appear uniformly to consider that Chicago’s handgun ban will be invalidated, constitutional lawyers were more interested in the grounds on which the High Court might base its expected decision. Would the High Court frame its decision narrowly, as urged by the National Rifle Association, for example? Or might the Court take the more unusual step of using the Chicago case to establish that the right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental “privilege or immunity” (in the words of the Fourteenth Amendment)? The latter would make it more difficult for states and even the federal government to impose significant restrictions on future exercise of the Second Amendment’s guarantees.
The smart money is that the Court will throw out Chicago’s gun ban, but on narrower rather than broader grounds. I would prefer the broader, more constitutionally-honest approach, but I don’t anticipate being pleasantly surprised when the Court’s opinion is released later this spring.
All this constitutional wrangling is little solace to Starbucks Coffee, which is being drawn into the public debate over who should be allowed to carry a holstered handgun openly, and where. Starbucks thus far has dealt with the controversy by stating that in those jurisdictions permitting the open carry of a handgun in restaurants, it will abide by those laws and ordinances. Anti-gun organizations, however, are pressuring the coffee giant to renounce that policy and no longer allow open carry in any of its restaurants, even if permitted by law.
Whether Starbucks will succumb to the mounting pressure by anti-gun groups such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and alter its tolerant policy, remains to be seen. For their part, however, firearms advocates might be better advised not to press the issue publicly by pointedly visiting Starbucks establishments with firearms openly displayed. Sometimes quiet advocacy speaks louder than waving a red flag in someone’s face.