It is the Second Amendment, Not the “Gun Lobby” That Must Be Satisfied on Gun Control

Below is my column in The Hill on the call for bans and limits on guns like the AR-15 since the massacre in Texas.  Both President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama have blamed the gun lobby for the violence in calling for new major gun controls. However, the barrier to banning weapons like the AR-15 rests more with the Second Amendment than the gun lobby. Any effort to reach some “commonsense” solutions will depend on the willingness to end the sweeping rhetoric and deal with the realities of the constitutional limits on gun control.

Here is the column:

As the nation mourns another massacre of children, we again try to make sense of the senseless. It is unimaginable and yet all too familiar. Within minutes of the killing of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a familiar cycle has emerged — grief coupled with angry demands for gun reforms.

President Biden used his initial remarks to denounce the gun lobby and demand gun control. The president spoke passionately and movingly on this loss but, after roughly a dozen lines, he turned to the politics of gun control, asking: “When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?”

It is a virtual mantra after massacres, as politicians pledge to stop gun violence while denouncing their opponents as facilitating the carnage.

The gun lobby, backed by millions of gun owners, is indeed a powerful political force. But it is not the gun lobby but the Constitution that is the greatest obstacle to some of these calls for gun bans or limits. If we want to get something done, we will need to be honest and nonpartisan, a challenge that previously has proven too much for our leaders. There is a limited range of movement for legislation, given the constitutional right to bear arms and controlling constitutional precedent.

In discussing “common sense gun laws,” the president once again denounced the availability of what he collectively called “assault weapons,” a common reference to such popular models as the AR-15. “What in God’s name do you need an assault weapon for, except to kill someone?” the president asked. “Deer aren’t running through the forest with Kevlar vests on, for God’s sake. It’s just sick.”

The call for “common sense” responses to this plague of violence is welcomed, but common sense also requires a common understanding of the realities of gun ownership and gun control.

Take the AR-15. Efforts to ban this model already have failed in the courts on constitutional grounds, though litigation is continuing on that issue. In 2008, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, recognizing the Second Amendment as encompassing an individual right to bear arms. Clearly many have good-faith disagreements with the constitutional interpretations behind Heller. However, that is currently the controlling precedent.

The AR-15 is the most popular gun in America and the number is continuing to rise rapidly, with one AR-15 purchased in every five new firearms sales. These AR-15s clearly are not being purchased for armored deer. Many are purchased for personal and home protection; it also is popular for target shooting and hunting. Many gun owners like the AR-15 because it is modular; depending on the model, you can swap out barrels, bolts and high-capacity magazines, or add a variety of accessories. While it does more damage than a typical handgun, it is not the most powerful gun sold in terms of caliber; many guns have equal or greater calibre.

That is why laws to ban or curtail sales of the AR-15 run into constitutional barriers. Most recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down a California ban on adults under 21 purchasing semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15. And the Supreme Court has a pending Second Amendment case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, that is likely to further strengthen gun rights this term.

After past tragedies, some of us have cautioned that there is a limited range of options for gun bans, given constitutional protections. There also are practical barriers, with an estimated 393 million guns in the United States and an estimated 72 million gun owners; three out of ten Americans say they have guns. Indeed, gun ownership rose during the pandemic. When former Texas congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke declared, “Hell yes, we are going to take your AR-15,” he was widely celebrated on the left. However, even seizing that one type of gun would require confiscation of as many as 15 million weapons.

If the president truly wants a “common sense” response to this tragedy, it needs to be based on reality, not rhetoric. In the past, massacres have been weaponized for political purposes, with measures that are either clearly unconstitutional or largely ineffectual.

When advocates call for banning gun sales, their challenge is not “the gun lobby” but the Second Amendment. Notably, after this latest massacre, film director and leftist activist Michael Moore went on MSNBC to call for the repeal of the Second Amendment. Moore said he does not want “to nickel-and-dime this … we need some really drastic action here.” He insisted we need to accept that “we are a violent people, to begin with. This country was birthed in violence, with genocide of the native people at the barrel of a gun.” Putting aside the hyperbolic language, Moore at least is being honest about what this would take — though a repeal is highly unlikely to garner the needed 38 states to ratify such an amendment.

Instead, we need a national dialogue, not another diatribe on guns.

There are some gun limits that could pass constitutional muster, but they will not materially reduce the number of guns in society or, necessarily, gun violence. There also are a variety of areas that could offer real benefits in reducing such shootings, from badly needed mental health program funding and greater school security to more effective “red flag” laws.

Many of us are prepared to respond to the president’s call to “to turn this pain into action.” However, when he says we can “do so much more,” we need to be honest with the American people on the range of movement allowed under the Constitution to restrict an individual constitutional right. Otherwise, we will continue this tragic cycle of mass shootings followed by familiar political maneuvering.

There are 19 children and two teachers who deserve more from all of us.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

222 thoughts on “It is the Second Amendment, Not the “Gun Lobby” That Must Be Satisfied on Gun Control”

  1. The movies and video games all glorify getting weaponed up and shooting everyone in sight. Some even glorify criminal behavior. The characters shot are not real, just 2 dimensional kill counts.

    So, you’re a lonely guy, incel, broken home, poor social skills, no connection to society, lack of religion and morality, probably medicated with a prescription that comes with a warning label that it might cause suicidal ideation, and you wish you were powerful and feared, just like the action heroes in the movies, your character in the game, or the criminal gang on TV. You pretend to be so as you play video games all day, wishing you were something you’re not. Without real friendships or social interactions, you just stew about how unfair your life is.

    Until one day your sociopathic brain hits upon the idea of being powerful and terrifying, and what’s more powerful than striking terror into an entire nation by targeting helpless children? You lack all empathy and morality and feel no protective instinct. You were never raised to understand that a real man protects the weak. That you don’t have to wear all black, get covered in tattoos, to act tough. You could just BE tough and competent, without having to over compensate or try so hard.

    That’s when someone decides to pull the next Columbine and get infamous.

    This is our culture’s fault for making mass shooters household names. Convincing those few with fertile ground in the audience that these people were powerful.

    OR, someone with a healthy upbringing who was unsatisfied with their present circumstances could have a real life. Go out and have actual adventures. Don’t have money? Join the marines and become a real warrior. Every military person I ever know had a fierce protective instinct. Or join the Peace Corps, or volunteer to help after natural disasters. Show up with your boat after a massive flood to help the Cajun fleet. Volunteer to dig wells in Africa. There are real adventures people could have that could hone them.

  2. A background check won’t stop a maniac if there is no mental health record in NICS.

    17 school safety bills, hundreds of millions of dollars, and a requirement for schools to have a safety plan for active shooters won’t stop a madman if the door to the school and the classrooms inside are unlocked.

    Armed resource officers can’t stop a maniac if they aren’t there on campus when they are needed.

    You can ban semi-automatic rifles with pistol grips, because they look scary, and because they have been used in mass shootings, but a rifle without a pistol grip and painted pink will fire just fine.

    You can pass strict gun laws, but Chicago has the strictest gun laws, yet it suffers more shootings every weekend than in TX. Criminals are not law abiding, by definition.

    You can blame the millions of law abiding gun owners in America for the actions of homicidal murderers, but did you blame all drivers for the Waukesha massacre, or the DUIs that steal away innocent lives?

    I understand why people who don’t have guns want to just get rid of them all and let the police handle crime. Yet, many of them despise the police. With the defund the police movement, response times have increased. In my own rural area, we were informed that defunding means response time could be up to 45 minutes. Getting rid of guns means no self defense. Someone can break into your house, do what they came there to do, and then leave. The cops might find him, but it won’t do you any good.

    I grew up with guns in the house. My father stopped someone from breaking in during the night just by chambering a round on the other side of the door. That man was breaking in when a family would be assumed to be home. What was he going to do? I suppose my family could have just begged instead of be armed and ready.

    We shoot rattlers on our property. I’ve used a shovel, and it is a very inhumane way to kill a snake. The head will live for up to 20 minutes, after decapitation. We live in a rural area with very slow police response times. Being armed is just considered normal preparedness and responsibility out here.

    The AR-15 is a popular weapon. It is NOT a weapon of war like the XM5 or XM250. The AR-15 has always been a civilian weapon. It’s lighter to carry than other rifles, and has a less recoil. If you have shoulder, back, or other issues, that reduced recoil makes a big difference. To ban a particular model weapon, or weapons that look a particular way, simply because they have been used in mass shootings, is illogical. They were not chosen because nothing else would fire. Banning them would not prevent any future murders.

    The AR-15 does not make law abiding people turn into mass murderers. I think they choose it because it look “cool” or tough, and that’s why they’re targeting defenseless people. They aren’t actually cool or tough, and they think if they terrify helpless people it will make them so. They put on tactical gear and weapon up like they’re making an avatar in a video game. Columbine was the first. That image of teens in trench coats armed to the teeth has unfortunately become iconic. It will be copied FOREVER, unless our culture changes. The media has made mass shooters infamous, and keep underlining how terrifying they are. This appeals to a certain sociopathic type of person. That thought of being intimidating and powerful. What the media SHOULD be doing is repeating what a cowardly, shameful, despicable act harming defenseless kids is.

    If you doubt that other weapons can cause carnage, recall that most gangland shootings terrorizing Chicago are carried out with handguns.

    If you think a gun is needed for mass murder, remember Waukesha, the plague of knife attacks in London, and mass poisonings.

    Since we cannot ensure that no bad person will ever kidnap, assault, shoot, stab, or give counterfeit drugs laced with fentanyl to students, then we need to turn all American schools into fortified safe zones, with security on a level with Israel.

    Why do politicians, actors, rock stars, and the local county registrar office enjoy better security than American school children?

    Go ahead and argue about firearms, but I am disappointed that schools are still not secure so many years after Columbine. Rural schools appear to be the least secure of all, with very little money to pay for fencing, cameras, and other security measures.

  3. I recently attended a conference at a medical school in WV, and was not surprised to learn of how many WV residents defend the 2A. This story is an excellent example of what every American should do: legally carry a pistol just in case, like this smart woman:

    Police: Woman with pistol killed man who shot at crowd of people in Charleston

    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WCHS) — UPDATED: 8:30 a.m., 5/26/22. Police said a woman who was lawfully carrying a pistol shot and killed a man who began shooting at a crowd of people Wednesday night in Charleston. Dennis Butler was killed after allegedly shooting at dozens of people attending a graduation party Wednesday near the Vista View Apartment complex. No injuries were reported from those at the party.

  4. Can you show me the law that says I must have been in a war to propose that a war is the right course of action to take? No, you can’t, because there is no such law. What if it turns out that I was right, even though I had never been in a war? Then you will have attempted to stifle my rightness based on a fallacy of logic. That’s akin to ignoring the good ideas of women and minorities. God, I’m surrounded by idiots. Please send an asteroid towards planet Earth. Thank you.

  5. Alcohol has long been known as a roadway killer. Drinking and driving kills 28 people a day in the U.S. — about one person every 52 minutes, according to the NHTSA. That is more than 10,000 lives lost each year to drunk driving. Drunk driving is responsible for about 1/3 of traffic fatalities. And yet no one in favor of banning guns who post on this blog is in favor of banning alcohol. Without their calling for a ban on alcohol they are just a bunch of virtue signalers with a political agenda. Just like Joe Biden.

  6. 100% agree with this….

    “Until Hunter Biden is prosecuted for lying on his ATF federal background check form, not a single Republican lawmaker should get behind this expanded background check & red flag law nonsense. Let them prove it’s not political.”

  7. The AR-15 Has become the demon gun of the left. When I was young I did a lot of target shooting. I had the chance to shoot a handgun named the 454 Casull. It would turn a cinder block to dust. It was used for heavy game hunting and as a defense against bears. In comparison the AR-15 is a matchstick. The point is where will the banning stop. The truth of the matter is that the leftist want to ban all guns. We should not be fooled because it has been proven that to the leftist too much is never enough. A perfect example is abortion.

  8. So, basically, I guess, Turley is saying that we all just have to live with the fear of when — not if — *another* law-abiding citizen will go off the deep end, trying to kill us all with his or her legally-purchased, Second Amendment-protected firearm. As Jordan Peterson might say: “Good luck with that!”

    1. Matthew every day people get in their cars and drive drunk. It is when not if that they will kill someone.
      Alcohol has long been known as a roadway killer. Drinking and driving kills 28 people a day in the U.S. — about one person every 52 minutes, according to the NHTSA. That is more than 10,000 lives lost each year to drunk driving. Drunk driving is responsible for about 1/3 of traffic fatalities. So according to your logic there is much more reason to ban the sale of alcohol than to ban guns. Please tell us that the banning of alcohol is on your agenda. Most people drink responsibly and most of the people who own firearms handle them responsibly. According to you if some drunken nut drives and kills a child all sales of alcohol should be discontinued. To be balanced this should be your position. Common sense isn’t really very common because so few people have any of it.

  9. When Heller came out, I recall the individual right to keep and bear arms was confined to a pistol in your home. What you stated, Jonathan, was a much broader right without the qualifiers. Heller respects public safety as a paramount purpose of forming government government, since core Constitutional freedoms of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness all depend on public safety being discharged at a high level of effectiveness.

    Heller recognizes the power of lawmakers to strike a balance which delivers on public safety at the least burden to self-defense rights.

    The 9th Circuit looked at the CA law, and decided that a blanket ban on under 21s owning certain weapons goes overboard in addressing the immaturity question. Perhaps they would uphold something like a requirement of an older adult (>30) supervising gun owners under the age of 25, where the adult co-signs at the purchase, and takes on liability for any criminal use of the weapon. This approach respects 18-21-year olds who have a responsible family member or mentor willing to take on the responsibility of supervision, therefore it is less burdensome than a blanket ban.

    The 2nd Amendment gives a general right to self-defense, but not at a cost to overall public safety. It’s a balancing act.

  10. On the Text of the 2nd Amendment

    What did the Founders have to say about the Militia and the Right to Bear Arms?

    “A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves…and include, according to the past and general usage of the states, all men capable of bearing arms… “To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.” – Richard Henry Lee, Federal Farmer No. 18, January 25, 1788

    “The Constitution shall never be construed to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.” – Samuel Adams, Massachusetts Ratifying Convention, 1788

    more at:

  11. How far will we let Putin go before we stop him? Fears of World War 3 is letting Putin conquer the world, starting with Ukraine.
    It’s not over for Ukraine if Russia takes Donbas. If the French could retake France from Hitler, then the Ukrainians can take back
    Donbas from Putin, as well as Crimea.

  12. I would propose “THE 100 YEAR RULE”

    If a Reasonable Man lives to be 100 years of age.
    Then for the first 3rd (33.3 years | 33yrs 4 mo.) He will not be able to Own or Purchase a Gun.
    Upon reaching the Age of 33yrs 4 mo., He can then Register for a Permit-to-Own a Gun.
    During the period of time between his reaching 33yrs 4 mo. and 34th Birthday; Background Checks, Training Certificates, and other Requirements will be processed.
    Upon his 34th Birthday He or She will be able to posses and own a Gun as under the 2nd Amendment.

    From Age 18 through 33yrs 4 mo., an Individual in the employment of the; Armed Services, Police, Security, etc. (Those Positions that require a Weapon).
    Those Employers/Agency’s will provide Weapons at the beginning of the Shift and will retrieve Weapons at the end of the Shift, which are to remain under lock and key safe at all times.

    IMO: You reach an age where ‘the ability to reason’ becomes realistic. A 34 year old is not a Kid, They are a grown Man/Woman. I believe that a lot of Young Peoples Lives would be spared, and equally a number of Young People not ruining their Lives by not ‘Thinking’ about what they were doing (using a Gun).

    [Disclosure] I am a Licensed Gun owner and did not own one until age 60+, I don’t feel I missed anything by waiting.

    1. A Reasonable man I truly love satire, even when it is fully unintended.

  13. “Common sense gun control” does not exist. Anyone not detached from reality can figure that out. Since the major leftists in our country likely understand that perfectly, why do they want to take peoples guns? My guess is, because the disarmed make better slaves.

    1. I take what most people say their motives are as sincere. If the motive is to bring down the gun murder rate, and especially the incidence of school shootings, then that’s a valid motive. I’m tired of the pernicious mind-reading. It’s just bull to claim the real motive is to enslave you and I. It’s hyper-defensive bull.

  14. Cops tell us all the time that they put their lives on the line everyday.

    Not that day.

    That was the day for them to sacrifice all.

    Get out of the doughnut shop, engage the threat immediately, neutralize the threat – one after another until the mission is accomplished.

    The cops failed.

    Many must resign.

    “War is Hell. Combat is a Mother——!”

    – Enlisted Club Bar Sign (Sand Bag Bunker) Cu Chi, Vietnam, April, 1970

  15. Shootings every now and then are the price we pay not to end up like Russia or Syria. When members of the government becomes the active shooters, then shootings would be much more frequent.

    1. So the choice is between accepting a school shooting of children per week or ending up like Russia or Syria? I think you’re tuning out an enormous middle ground where schoolkids and their parents can feel safer.

      It’s pretty obvious among these comments which people want to take responsibility as public safety improvers, and those who don’t want to take any.

  16. A perfect example of what can happen if the Government has no fear of the populous. Australian Tyranny extraordinaire: prohibition against leaving country, restricting interstate travel, shuttering churches, locking citizens to their residences, curfews, arresting individual for being without masks and other draconian measures. Once a shining example of a Democracy! China 2.0?

    1. George W you should see what they’re planning for us over in Davos.

      1. “The World Economic Forum” and its participants do indeed frighten me. Their first meeting in 1971 under the title European Management Symposium had some 400+ participants from 30+ countries and held in Davos, Switzerland. Their supposed agenda included questions of “Challenges of the Future” and other Strategies of how to control the economy and human behavior. Thinking they were above the average intelligence of the masses and had the answers.

        I was concerned when I started studying their views. There was what I considered a spin-off called the Trilateral Commission founded in1973 by various individuals, David Rockefeller was credited as one. Their goal was multilateralism, global governance.

        These two groups are of the greatest threats to the American way of life, individual liberty and freedom and their view of One World Order.

  17. One of the commonsense solutions is going to involve an investigation as to how one of the parents was placed in handcuffs, released some time later, then went into the school and got her kids out.

    Another one involves a culture of basic building security among staff.

    Certainly people should be open to a discussion about guns and the 2nd amendment. But you have to recognize the legislative limits of this along with the fact that the solution to every societal problem is not to criminalize more people.

    Biden/Harris have done more to create an atmosphere of over-policing, particularly in poor neighborhoods, than just about any couple of politicians I know. They overcriminalize a society, then blame the police for hassling people because of the overcriminalization they have created.

  18. One Word:


    For those perfidious traitors and parasitic, dependent, foreign-invader hyphenates who suck at the American teat, rejecting self-reliance, despise and oppose America and its imperative Constitution, and hold dear an overwhelming desire to engage in “…fundamentally transforming the United States of America…,” aka conducting anything remotely similar to the Obama Coup D’etat in America, emigration is readily available and encouraged.

  19. Here is a dirty little secret.

    Street thugs and gangbangers use civil rights protections to enable their crimes and escape punishment.

    They peaceably assemble and speak to plan and prepare robberies and drive-by shootings.

    They peacefully bear arms to and from the scenes of robberies and drive-by shootings.

    They use their freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures to conceal evidence of their robberies and drive-by shootings.

    They use their rights to a fair trial and due process to avoid punishment for their robberies and drive-by shootings.

    They use their right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment to avoid the punishment that they deserve for their robberies and drive-by shootings, even if they are judged guilty consistently with their other rights.

    Given the above, who among us will still support the Bill of Rights?

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