This week, Congressman Chris Collins (R-NY) introduced legislation that would shield popular rifles and shotguns, including the AR-15, from being banned under state laws. The bill, known as the Second Amendment Guarantee Act (SAGA), would also protect parts for these firearms, including detachable magazines and ammunition feeding devices.
The bill is a response to antigun laws in a small handful of states – including California, Connecticut, D.C., Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York – that criminalize the mere possession of highly popular semiautomatic long guns widely available throughout the rest of the country. Although rifles or shotguns of any sort are used less often in murders than knives, blunt objects such as clubs or hammers, or even hands, fists, and feet, gun control advocates have sought to portray the banned guns as somehow uniquely dangerous to public safety.
Anti-gunners’ focus on these so-called “assault weapons” was renewed after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. That decision made clear that handguns – by far the type of firearm most commonly used in crime – were subject to Second Amendment protection and could not be banned. This led gun control advocates to seek out other sorts of guns to demonize, and they’ve since been strenuously promoting the myth that semiautomatic rifles and shotguns with certain features such as detachable magazines, pistol grips or adjustable stocks are “weapons of war” with no legitimate civilian use.
Yet Americans overwhelmingly choose these types of firearms for legitimate purposes, including protection of their homes and properties, “three-gun” and other practical shooting sports, and hunting and pest control. And, indeed, the states’ legislative attempts to ban these guns has spurred a market for innovative products that use the same basic calibers and firing mechanisms, but with stock, grip, and accessory configurations that comply with legislative guidelines.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to review any of these state bans, lower courts have come up with increasingly strained readings of the Second Amendment and Supreme Court precedents to try to justify them. The Seventh Circuit, for example, held that even if a ban’s incursion on Second Amendment rights had no beneficial effect on safety whatsoever, it could still be justified on the basis of the false sense of security it might impart to local residents with exaggerated fears of the banned guns. “[I]f it has no other effect,” the majority opinion stated, the challenged “ordinance may increase the public’s sense of safety.” That’s hardly an acceptable offset for the infringement of a constitutional right.
Members of the Supreme Court have criticized their colleagues for failing to review these cases and the lower courts for misapplying Supreme Court precedent. As noted in a dissent filed by Justice Clarence Thomas and joined by Heller’s author, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, “Roughly five million Americans own AR-style semiautomatic rifles.” Moreover, the “overwhelming majority of citizens who own and use such rifles do so for lawful purposes, including self-defense and target shooting.” “Under our precedents,” Thomas concluded, “that is all that is needed for citizens to have a right under the Second Amendment to keep such weapons.”
With states’ violating Americans’ rights and federal courts allowing them to act with impunity, it is up to Congress to ensure that all Americans, wherever they may live, have access the best, most modern and innovative firearms for their lawful needs, including the protection of themselves and their families.
The SAGA would ensure that state regulations could not effectively prevent the manufacture, sale, importation, or possession of any rifle or shotgun lawfully available under federal law or impose any prohibitive taxes, fees, or design limitations on such firearms.
Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the “lobbying” arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.