As the issue of gun control took center stage this week in Washington, the National Rifle Association was working overtime in peddling the palpable nonsense that the Second Amendment to the Constitution extends an unlimited right of gun ownership to citizens.
No serious legal scholar espouses such a notion, and last Sunday, former Chief Justice Warren Burger weighed in on the question, saying that such claims amount to "a fraud upon the American people." In a television interview, Burger went on that anyone who argues that gun ownership is a "constitutional right" is simply being "dishonest." He added that his only objection to the Brady bill, which still must clear the Senate and President Bush's threatened veto in order to become law, was the shortness of the waiting period. Instead of seven days, the former chief justice said, the waiting period should be 30 days in order to give authorities ample time to investigate the background of every person seeking to purchase a handgun. Burger, by the way, owns handguns, shotguns and rifles, but he readily accepts the reasonable limitation of the Brady bill.
Over two centuries the Supreme Court has never come close to interpreting the Second Amendment as fanatical elements of the NRA would like. The reality is that in practical terms, the Second Amendment is a dead letter in the Constitution, just like other provisions which have been overtaken by time and circumstances. Legislative bodies need no constitutional authority to enact gun control laws; all they need is the political will.