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Peter Fairchild: Think gun rights are inalienable? Read ‘Heller’



For the Monitor
Monday, January 07, 2019

I was interested to read three letters in the Jan. 4 Monitor with different perspectives on gun safety and the N.H. House vote to prevent guns in the State House buildings.

Gary Evans said that the vote “restored sanity to our government process.” Maureen Ellermann said the “rights of people to be free of gun violence is not secondary to the rights of people to bear arms. One does not supersede the other.”

As a counterpoint, Paul Mirski said that this vote “demonstrated Democrats’ willingness to suppress constitutional principles,” also referring to gun rights as “inalienable rights” and “fundamental rights.” The clear implication is that gun rights are absolute and cannot be restricted.

The fact is that Ellermann is correct when she says both (gun rights and right to freedom from gun violence) are rights in our democracy. She is correct on both moral grounds and on constitutional and legal grounds. Mirski is only partly correct, and the part he (as well as all “2A” rights advocates) seems to either miss or intentionally ignore is essential to our safety and well-being.

Second Amendment rights guaranteed by the Constitution were clarified and defined for all citizens by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2008 decision, written for the majority by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. In this clarification of the original Constitution, he affirmed that individual gun ownership is a constitutional right but he continued in his decision to write that “like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” He makes it clear that restrictions on gun ownership, types of guns, sales, where they can be carried and other public safety concerns are also secured by the Second Amendment.

It is particularly important to note that Scalia upheld “laws prohibiting the carrying of firearms in sensitive places, such as schools and government buildings.” (I think the New Hampshire State House certainly would qualify as a government building.)

To all who believe that gun rights are inalienable and fundamental and cannot be restricted, please read Justice Scalia’s opinion. It is essentially still the law of the land. It is commonly referred to as the “Heller Decision” or the District of Columbia v. Heller decision. Just Google it, and please read it in its entirety, not just the first section. Please understand that if you truly support our Constitution, you must support both gun rights and reasonable gun violence protections. You can’t proclaim absolute guarantees only on those parts of the Constitution that you like.

(Peter Fairchild lives in Concord.)