Behind gun control debate, questions of what’s practical, constitutional

by David Grant,  |  published on February 2, 2013

The debate over new gun controls that has engulfed Washington may boil down to two key questions: Are the proposals practical and effective, and are they constitutional?

Both sides are doing their level best to marshal arguments along those lines for or against different pieces of legislation to ban assault rifles, require universal background checks of gun buyers, and strengthen federal laws against gun trafficking and straw purchases – components of President Obama’s gun legislation recommendations that Senate Democrats have picked up in recent days.

Take National Rifle Association President David Keene, who framed the debate this way on Thursday during a Monitor-sponsored breakfast with reporters. “When you are passing laws that impinge on fundamental constitutional rights, the question is twofold,” Mr. Keene said. “One, how seriously will [new laws] impinge on these rights? And secondly, is there a benefit from doing it?”

Juxtapose that with comments Wednesday, during a Senate hearing on gun violence, from Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York. He argued that the Democratic bills dealing with gun trafficking and background checks would not interfere with the constitutional rights of individual Americans to bear arms.

“Those on the pro-gun side must recognize no amendment is absolute,” Senator Schumer said. “The Second Amendment has sensible limits, too.”

This hard-minded discussion means the debate is beginning to deepen, moving beyond Democrats’ emotional appeals for sweeping gun restrictions in the wake of the Dec. 14 school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and past conservatives’ visions of G-men helicoptering in to wrest guns from the hands of law-abiding citizens under the fig leaf of public safety.

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