Having forgotten there was an American Enlightenment and our founding history, we now have what prior generations did not: a “Gun Epidemic,” declared in a historic 2015 front-page New York Times editorial
Heller turned a “gun problem” into a “gun epidemic”
Our sudden “Gun Epidemic” has a root cause. It’s not sudden mental disease.
In D.C. v. Heller (2008), a 5-4 Supreme Court for the first time in 200 years, turned a common law right of self-defense into a blockbuster Second Amendment right to possess guns. As dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens revealed in his 2019 memoir before he died at 99 years old, “all [justices] could foresee the negative consequences” of “such a radical change in the law, that would greatly tie the hands” of lawmakers seeking “solutions to the gun problem in America.”
America’s “gun problem” soon became its “gun epidemic,” growing worse year after year.
The numbers tell the story. After Heller proclaimed a constitutional right to guns in 2008, extended to the states by McDonald v. Chicago (2010), guns and gun deaths surged in tandem, from 310 to 400 million guns and 31,500 to 40,000 annual deaths:
Thanks to Heller and its negative consequences, America experiences record gun violence, daily mass shootings, and weekly school shootings, triggering last-year’s March for Our Lives.
Not only was this foreseeable, courts have long known that unchecked gun proliferation and use tend to lead to impulsive, confrontational behavior, with deadly results. In 1832, a legal treatise cited in Heller condemned the practice of carrying loaded pistols, noting they “frequently turned a quarrel into a bloody affray, which otherwise would have terminated in angry words.”
This Twitter feed—compiling today’s almost hourly impulsive confrontations with deadly results in homes and communities across the nation—reports: “The 2nd Amendment calls for a well regulated militia, but this is what we have instead”:
Heller blocks effective reform
Five years ago, Justice Stevens, citing “the slaughter caused by the prevalence of guns,” warned it is “profoundly important” to see how Heller “curtails the government’s power to regulate the use of handguns that contribute to the 88 [now 109] firearm deaths every day.” Last year after the Parkland massacre, he called demands for universal background checks and assault-rifle bans useful to minimize “mass killings of schoolchildren and others” but no cure, urging “more effective and more lasting reform.”
Incremental reform allowed by Heller’s limited exceptions to its right to guns won’t stop the epidemic. Universal background checks won’t reach the ongoing misuse of 400 million guns. Raising the minimum age won’t prevent most mass shootings. And they comprise a small portion of 109 deaths every day. Most involve Heller-protected handguns that enable record suicides, domestic violence and accidents in the home, and unprecedented impulse and grievance shootings, school and mass shootings when predictably taken out in public.
Time to embrace Justice Stevens on Heller
The status quo is not working. And it won’t really improve until we begin to see gun violence differently, ask why it suddenly is so much worse, and then do something about it.
Justice Stevens astutely recognized the root problem: Heller’s double blows to the safety of all Americans, which (a) turned our gun problem into a gun epidemic, and (b) block and marginalize real legislative action.
America could pay no greater tribute to its third-longest serving justice—and to itself—by heeding his warnings and finally addressing the deadly, obstructive effects of Heller.
We can make a difference, with your support.