The Supreme Court and the right to carry

Henry Champ on the future of gun control in the U.S.

First, let me establish some bona fides.

I get it. I understand the affinity the vast majority of gun owners have for their guns.

Growing up as I did in rural Manitoba, I was 10 years old when I bought my first rifle, a .22-calibre Cooey bolt-action repeater for $10.

With my friends, who also had .22s, we spent many summer days hunting rabbits and gophers. Gophers in particular.

At the time, the province paid a nickel bounty for every gopher's tail you brought in. Designed to curb Manitoba's burgeoning gopher population, the policy was a distinct failure, although my friends and I did what we could to wipe them out.

We all used .22 Whiz-Bang long rifle ammunition. It came 50 shells to a box. A box cost 85 cents.

Simple arithmetic meant you had to have 17 hits to buy a new box of Whiz-Bangs. You can develop a pretty good shooting eye working to that standard.

Growing-up moment

In the fall, we went duck and deer hunting with our fathers and other older men.

Hunter McConathy, 7, holds a hunting rifle with a short stock as his father Bryan and salesman Russ Duncan watch him at the Cabela's store in Fort Worth, Texas in 2008. In June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Chicago's strict gun control law, in the process affirming the right of individual Americans to own arms. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)
  To be invited to shoot over decoys or to be assigned a deer stand was a big growing-up moment.

In that part of the world, guns were mixed in with the baseball season, fall football, bicycles, paper routes and hanging around. Guns were a part of the scene but by no means the dominant activity.

When I left Manitoba to work elsewhere, almost always in urban areas, guns and hunting simply faded from my life. I've never owned one since.

My wife and I live in Washington but we also have a small farm in northern Virginia. Fauquier County to be exact. It's about 80 kilometres from the capital.   Fauquier is very much about hunting and the outdoor life.

Most of my neighbours hunt, many belong to skeet, trap or pistol clubs and, as was the case in Manitoba, guns are part of a family tradition with one notable difference: women are now fully active in these sports. Many young girls follow the same path as their brothers.

Guns on the bar

Many are also National Rifle Association members. And while I don't shoot anymore, my neighbours and I have common cause.

It is that the lunatic-fringe gun owners, and the weak-kneed politicians who serve them, have now gone too far.

In Virginia, you can carry a concealed weapon. You need a permit that requires some minimal knowledge of your weapon and a check of your background.

I remember a few years back, when the law came into effect, the local newspaper interviewed the first Fauquier County recipient of such a permit. They also ran a picture of the man, a beefy, crew-cut young guy who said he was a construction worker.

Asked why he wanted to carry a gun, his response was simple and straightforward: " It makes me feel good."

More than 100,000 such permits have been issued since.

These permits have always had no-go areas. You can't carry a concealed weapon in schools, hospitals, at the mall, etc. But this week, the state legislature passed a law that allows gun-toters to wear their iron in bars and restaurants where liquor is sold.

This law passed despite being opposed by every police chief in the state.

The majority of restaurant and bar owners opposed it as well.

The new law says a permit-holder cannot drink alcohol while packing a gun. But bar owners say, if a gun is concealed, how would they know who may be breaking the law.

One of those in the forefront of the law's successful lobbying effort is Philip Van Cleave of Virginia's Citizens Defence League.

He told reporters he wanted the law because: "If there is somebody drinking in there and suddenly they pull a knife and start to stab people or whatever, I want to protect myself."

There was another, perhaps more significant defeat this week for the gun-control movement: The U.S. Supreme Court strike down the city of Chicago's strict gun rules.

In a shot heard nationwide, the court ruled that "states and local jurisdictions cannot significantly limit the right to keep and to bear arms," a direct response to Chicago's 28-year ban on handguns being kept in the city's homes.

'Commonsense regulations'

The news triggered a barrage of headlines and dire warnings. Many commentators, such as CNN/New Yorker legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, felt that gun control had just been thrown out the window and someone was soon going to have to figure out how to stop someone from legally owning a Stinger missile.

In the wake of the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley promised to soon push for a new ordinance regulating handguns in the city. (M. Spencer Green/Associated Press)

Silly, I know, but this is the U.S.

Almost overlooked, the justice did add language that indicated states and local jurisdictions could enforce "commonsense regulations."

That was enough for Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. His council immediately passed a new law, even tougher than the previous one.

Its teeth is that it makes gun permits very difficult to get. The procedure is time-consuming and the mayor promises that if any loopholes are found he will plug them.

This newest step by Chicago will almost certainly end up in the courts as well. 

Pretty much everyone, on both sides of the gun issue, believes the court's inclusion of "commonsense regulations" will open the door to hundreds, if not thousands of lawsuits testing the limits of gun control right across the land.

Obviously, you don't want guns in schools. But with the right to own guns by individuals now firmly established, where do you draw the line?

The vast majority of the gun owners that I know understand what is right. It's time for politicians to get with it and not just play to the loudest voices.

Some quick statistics.

Every year more than 100,000 Americans are shot and more than 30,000 will die as a result of their wounds.

Eighty-five people in the U.S. die each day from gun violence, nine of them are teenagers or children.

And a note to Philip Van Cleave and his concern about being stabbed in a bar: Gun owners are four times more likely to die from guns than those without weapons.