Gun Control after Heller: Threats and Sideshows from a Social Welfare Perspective
56 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2009
Date Written: February 6, 2009
What will happen after Heller? We know that the Supreme Court will no longer tolerate comprehensive federal prohibitions on home handgun possession by some class of trustworthy homeowners for the purpose of, and perhaps only at the time of, self-defense. But the judiciary could push further, if nothing else by incorporating Heller's holding into the Fourteenth Amendment and enforcing it against states and municipalities. In fact, the majority opinion offered little guidance for future cases. It presented neither a purely originalist method of constitutional interpretation nor a constraining doctrinal framework for evaluating other regulation - even while it gratuitously suggested that much existing gun control is acceptable. In the absence of more information from the Court, we identify plausible legal arguments for the next few rounds of litigation and assess the stakes for social welfare.
We conclude that some of the most salient legal arguments after Heller have little or no likely consequence for social welfare based on available data. For example, the looming fight over local handgun bans - an issue on which we present original empirical data - seems largely inconsequential. The same can be said for a right to carry a firearm in public with a permit. On the other hand, less prominent legal arguments could be quite threatening. Taxation and regulation targeted especially at firearms might be presumptively disfavored by judges in the future, along the lines of free speech doctrine. This could have serious consequences. In addition, Second Amendment doctrine might generally dampen enthusiasm for innovative regulatory responses to the problem of gun violence. The threat of litigation may inhibit policy experimentation ranging from micro-stamping on shell casings, to pre-market review of gun design, to so-called personalized firearms, and beyond.
Keywords: gun control, second amendment, gun rights, Heller, social welfare
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