A new commentary from the National Rifle Association claims that laws relating to the buying, owning, and carrying of firearms are “equally as unconstitutional” as Jim Crow laws that created legal racial discrimination in the United States.
The July 7 commentary was published by NRA News and is part of the gun group's recent efforts to reach a younger, more diverse audience. While discussing his interpretation of the Second Amendment, NRA News commentator Dom Raso said, “So just because someone makes a law that says you can't buy, own, or carry a weapon, doesn't make it lawful. Jim Crow laws were also passed and enforced and those were equally as unconstitutional. Too many Americans don't think of the Second Amendment as a civil rights issue and that's dangerous because all of those rights together define freedom.”
Although the comparison is absurd on its face -- gun ownership laws cannot be compared to a pernicious body of law that legitimized a "racial caste system" in the United States -- Raso fails to appreciate that gun laws routinely face legal challenges, but are almost always upheld as consistent with the Second Amendment.
The landmark 2008 Supreme Court Second Amendment decision District of Columbia v. Heller ruled that many restrictions on firearms are lawful and consistent with the U.S. Constitution.
Writing for the majority, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia mentioned several areas where gun ownership may be regulated, explaining, “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” Scalia also noted that restrictions on “dangerous and unusual weapons” are consistent with the Second Amendment.
Several recent court challenges to state-level gun laws passed following the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School demonstrate the Heller principle that firearms can be regulated in a manner consistent with the Second Amendment. These cases touch on the types of restrictions Raso claimed were “equally as unconstitutional” as Jim Crow laws, such as what types of weapons can be outlawed and what conditions may be placed on purchasing a firearm.
On June 26 a Colorado federal district court rejected a constitutional challenge to two post-Sandy Hook laws that limited firearm ammunition magazine capacity to 15 rounds and required gun purchasers to undergo a background check. In January, Connecticut federal district court rejected a Second Amendment challenge to Connecticut's post-Sandy Hook law, which included bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Earlier that month, a New York federal district court relied on similar logic to deny a Second Amendment challenge to New York's expanded ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
Several other high profile cases have upheld regulations on firearms over the past few months, including the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upholding Washington's firearms registration law, the Supreme Court's decision to let stand a Third Circuit ruling that upheld a New Jersey law restricting where firearms can be carried in public, and a Ninth Circuit opinion that upheld San Francisco's “safe storage” and hollow-point ammunition ban laws.
According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which tracks Second Amendment challenges to gun laws, since the Heller decision 96 percent of the more than 900 challenges on constitutional grounds have been rejected by courts.
The NRA frequently compares conditions placed on gun ownership to discrimination on the basis of race, including NRA past president Marion Hammer's widely ridiculed claim that banning assault weapons comparable to racial discrimination.