June 23, 2022

ILYA SOMIN: Guns and Judicial Protection of Constitutional Rights that Put Lives at Risk.

Unlike other forms of substantive liberty, the carrying of arms for that purpose [self-defense] often puts others’ lives at risk…. And the use of arms for private self-defense does not warrant federal constitutional protection from state regulation.

This argument ignores social science evidence suggesting that extreme gun bans like those of DC and Chicago cost at least as many innocent lives than they save. Still, gun rights probably do cause at least some deaths that might otherwise have been prevented.

In that respect, however, they are no different from numerous other constitutional rights. Justice Breyer’s argument in McDonald is actually very similar to Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in Boumediene v. Bush, where Scalia warned that giving habeas corpus rights to War on Terror detainees “will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.” That argument didn’t move Breyer, who voted with the majority to extend those rights. Similarly, the enforcement of Fourth Amendment rights and Fifth Amendment rights allows at least some violent criminals to escape punishment, which in turn leads to some number of murders that might otherwise have been prevented. Pro-lifers certainly argue that the right to abortion kills far more people and in a far more direct way than gun ownership does. . . .

If we allow government to set aside constitutional rights whenever they “put… others’ lives at risk,” we soon won’t have many constitutional rights left. I also object to Breyer’s and Scalia’s more selective invocation of risks to life in cases involving rights for which they have little sympathy, while simultaneously ignoring very similar considerations when the right at stake is one they value more highly…

Breyer tries to limit his argument to “substantive liberty rights,” which may exclude procedural rights such as those protected by the Fourth Amendment or habeas corpus. However, it’s not clear why life-threatening procedural rights should be any more vigorously enforced than similarly risky substantive rights.

Plus: “One can argue that guns inherently threaten life, while only a small percentage of exercises of free speech rights or criminal procedure rights do the same. But it is equally true that only a small percentage of gun owners ever use them to commit crimes. In both situations, the case for regulation rests on the theory that we must restrict a wide range of people in order to forestall the relatively small minority who cause great harm.”

InstaPundit is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.