With calls for gun control, RWU Law Dean explains what 2nd amendment protects

With growing calls for some type of gun control legislation in the wake of two shootings in Ohio and Texas over the weekend, opponents are reminding people that their right to a firearm is protected under the constitution, but the second amendment has received very little legal scrutiny aside from a 2008 Supreme Court Decision.

On Saturday morning, a gunman walked into an El Paso, Texas Walmart and opened fire killing 21 people, and early Sunday morning a shooter opened fire at a popular bar in downtown Dayton, Ohio killing ten people before being taken out by police a minute after the shooting began.

On Monday, Gov. Raimondo was one of many to call for an all-out ban on assault weapons, like the ones used in the weekend shootings. Bans like this already exist in states such as Massachusetts and Connecticut.

But in Rhode Island, if someone walked into a gun store, with the mandatory 7-day waiting period beginning at noon the day after the purchase, a person can have a gun, like an AR-15, in a week.

Despite the bad press, Nathan Landi, owner of Lost Treasures Gun & Coin in Pawtucket, said these kinds of weapons still interest some people.

“In a month I might sell two or three. I don’t sell a lot of them,” he said.

Landi, who specializes more in antique firearms, said that when calls renew for gun control, interest does tend to spike.

“I see a lot more business coming in for it,” he added. “The legitimate gun owners that come in here that are regular customers are some of the nicest and honest people I’ve ever dealt with.

Opponents continue to remind people that a ban would be an infringement on their rights, but Michael Yelnosky, Dean of the Law School at Roger Williams University, said that there haven’t been many cases at all where the Supreme Court hands out a definitive explanation of what the second amendment protects.

“The second amendment does not provide an absolute right to own, possess a firearm,” he said.

It comes down to a 2008 Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller. The case was brought to the Supreme Court regarding the legal right to possess handguns in Washington D.C.

Yelnosky said before the ruling, courts viewed the second amendment in relation to state militias, but that changed after the 5-4 decision.

“The second amendment protects individual rights with respect to firearms,” Yelnosky said. “This is a fairly new issue. It was only 2008 when the court recognized this individual right.”

However, the ruling did not say that there is an ‘absolute’ right to bear arms, Yelnosky said. The topics of an assault weapons ban and other bans could be completely constitutional under this ruling.

“Probably lawful or presumptively lawful, they said, were restrictions on guns that law-abiding citizens tend not to possess; see an assault weapon,” he said.

And that’s where the question comes into play as to whether these assault weapons can be used for home defense, as defined in the Heller ruling, and if they are classified as “weapons a person would not tend to possess.”

Yelnosky believes more cases will go before the Supreme Court that will further detail what the second amendment protects, and what it doesn’t.