The Right to Bear Arms

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As the DC gun ban heads off the court let me proclaim myself someone who would like to see law-abiding individuals be permitted to own handguns but doesn't at all think it's clear that this is the correct interpretation of the second amendment. Certainly it seems like a defensible reading, but this is just one of several points on which despite the table-pounding from both sides I think you have to say that there's not really a "correct" answer.

In policy terms, I think recognition of an individual right to gun ownership would do no harm (I don't believe that DC's near-blanket ban is doing anything useful to ameliorate the crime rate) but might clear the path for some more sensible forms of gun regulation. Identifying guns used in crimes and tracking them down, and creating strong incentives for people not to sell guns to criminals are both things that would, I think, be useful tools for law enforcement to have. But voters in jurisdictions featuring a strong culture of gun ownership and relatively little concern about violent crime tend to be extremely hostile to any such measures, seeing them as little more than stalking horses for a liberal plot to take everyone's guns away. Recognition of a limited individual right to gun ownership might allow us to move to a more productive regulatory equilibrium than the one in which urban areas enact super-stringent gun regulations that are then completely undermined by the much laxer rules elsewhere.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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