Good news, Bostonians: you can own guns! The bad news: so can your weird neighbor. This past Thursday, the US Supreme Court affirmed an individual’s right to bear arms, independent of “a well-regulated militia” (that oh-so-finicky and much-disputed prefatory clause). According to the 5-4 majority, guns can be owned and used for “for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home
Though the decision was roundly criticized by many liberals, several Boston-area heavyweights on both sides of the gun-ownership debate who spoke with the Phoenix found little reason to fear its effect on the state.
“I’m relieved that the court endorsed this right,” says John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence. “Now the NRA can’t continue to use the fear of a gun ban to elect extremist leaders. It takes the bogeyman off the table.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Jim Wallace, executive director of Gun Owners’ Action League (GOAL), speculates that this decision could affect Massachusetts’s gun laws, known to be some of the most comprehensive in the nation since the 1998 passage of the state’s Gun Control Act.
“All of our [gun] laws are under the premise that there isn’t an individual right,” says Wallace. “Now the burden of proof is with the government, to show the need for restrictions or denials [of a gun license].”
So, will the state’s current restrictions on gun licensing be challenged in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, as many have suggested?
Unlikely, says Angus McQuilken, one-time chief of staff for former state senator Cheryl Jacques of Needham, because “none of these restrictions prohibit the ownership of guns. Massachusetts has the strongest and most effective gun laws in the country. . . . We are an example for the rest of the country of how reasonable gun laws work to reduce violence.”
“The gun ownership system in Massachusetts works fairly well,” adds Darius Arbabi, an NRA educator who teaches gun safety. “If we need to have restrictions, for the most part we have sensible ones.”
Wallace, however, takes a more militant stance, deeming the Gun Control Act “a disaster — an absolute disaster.” “As far as I’m concerned,” he says, “it’s an aberration that lawful citizens have to register their guns, when owning a gun is a right.”
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, a gun in the home “increases the risk of homicide by 40 to 170 percent and the risk of suicide by 90 to 460 percent.”
Rosenthal, who compared Massachusetts gun fatalities with those in less-regulated states, says that Massachusetts has the second-lowest rate of gun fatality in the countr. (Hawaii has the lowest rate of deaths per 100,000 residents.)
“We are the model for the nation — we can show states and Congress that they don’t have to be afraid of the NRA any longer.”
Unless you plan to move to Hawaii, then, Massachusetts may be the best place to own — or not own — a gun. Especially if you like the idea of a nice, thorough background check.
Readers with a lot of patience can review the recent Supreme Court decision at supremecourtus.gov/opinions/07pdf/07-290.pdf.