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Debate On Gun Control Should Ask Whether Congress Has Power To Regulate

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President Obama called for more gun control in his State of the Union address last night. The effectiveness of his proposals have been the subject of heated debate. But both sides are missing the larger question: Does Congress even have the right to regulate or ban guns?

Gun control has become one of the preeminent battles of 2013. During a press conference last month, in which he was surrounded by children, President Obama urged Congress to ban “assault” (automatic) weapons, limit magazines to 10 bullets, and introduce universal background checks for all firearm buyers. And last night, Mr. Obama again called for this regulation in hisState of the Union address. Naming those affected by gun violence, he asserted to a cheering, standing crowd: “They deserve a vote.”

Across the country, Americans are debating the effectiveness of Obama’s gun-control proposals. Commentators on the left argue that automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines aren’t necessary for home defense or hunting. On the right, the president’s critics say limiting guns won’t end violence and point out that no matter what laws Congress passes, criminals will still find ways to be well armed. The proposed legislation, they contend, simply would put law-abiding citizens at a disadvantage.

Both sides are missing the larger question in this debate: Does Congress even have the right to regulate or ban guns? Where does Congress derive the power to prohibit ownership or manufacture of certain weapons or magazines? It seems that many gun-rights advocates and opponents have forgotten their basic civics in assuming that Congress can act as long as 51 percent of the members agree.

The Second Amendment of the Constitution clearly states: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” And as James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper No. 45, “The powers delegated…to the Federal Government are few and defined.” Those essays were written to promote ratification of the Constitution and assure states of its limits on federal power.

Madison further explained that these powers would “be exercised principally on external objects such as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce.” The states, he assured his readers, retained “numerous and indefinite” powers extending to “the lives, liberties, and properties of the people,” including “internal order.” The Supreme Court has consistently upheld the individual’s right to bear arms over several decades and court cases.

 

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Such history lessons are usually dismissed by modern politicians.

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