The Supreme Court Should Reject the NRA's Revisionist History | Opinion

On Nov. 3, the Supreme Court will hear the most consequential Second Amendment case since 2010. In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, a local affiliate of the National Rifle Association (NRA) is challenging New York State's century-old law requiring that you show "proper cause" to get a permit if you want to carry a gun in public.

But this case is much bigger than a single state law. For starters, one in four Americans live in a state with a permitting law similar to New York's, and for good reason—research has shown that states that did away with such measures experienced an 11 percent spike in gun-related murders. If the Supreme Court strikes down New York's law, public carry permitting laws will be thrown into limbo.

Unfortunately, even that scenario is just the tip of the iceberg. To put it bluntly, if five justices side with the NRA, virtually every gun safety law in our nation will be put into jeopardy—and hundreds of years of American tradition will be swept under the rug.

To understand how that could come to pass, you need to know a little more about the NRA's argument in the New York case, which boils down to this: The Second Amendment should be read to guarantee a virtually unfettered right to pack heat in public. This interpretation of American history echoes the incendiary and inaccurate origin story currently being peddled by NRA CEO and Vice President Wayne LaPierre, who has said "For 150 years, NRA has stood like a rock to make sure that law-abiding Americans will always enjoy the freedoms that were enshrined for us in the United States Constitution." But crucially, the "us" the NRA refers to is limited to a fringe group of gun extremists who believe their right to bear arms wherever they want trumps every other right laid out in the Constitution.

Gun safety advocates rally
Gun safety advocates rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

This vision of the Constitution isn't just exclusionary—it's also historically inaccurate. The roots of the New York case stretch all the way back to at least 1328 and the English Statute of Northampton, which broadly prohibited the carrying of weapons in public places—and serves as proof that the desire to live free of armed intimidation and vigilantism isn't a newfangled phenomenon. This tradition of common-sense limits on publicly carrying deadly weapons transferred over to the British colonies in North America, several of which adopted laws inspired by the Northampton statute, and it continued after the colonies won their freedom and formed the United States of America. Starting in 1836, for instance, many states enacted their own versions of a Massachusetts law limiting the public carrying of weapons to people who could demonstrate a need to carry a gun. Even the Old West wasn't quite as wild as you might think, with many ranching towns prohibiting anyone who wasn't a law enforcement officer from carrying a dangerous weapon, concealed or otherwise.

To give you a sense of just how uncontroversial these laws were up until the last few decades, consider this: In the 1920s and '30s, the NRA supported the passage of laws requiring a person to demonstrate a good reason to fear injury to his person or property before he could legally carry a concealed gun in public. In fact, Karl T. Frederick, a future president of the NRA, wrote a model of these laws that legislators could adapt for their own community.

This all goes to show that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was correct when he wrote that "history and tradition show that a variety of gun regulations have co-existed with the Second Amendment right." In fact, judges appointed by Republicans and Democrats alike have consistently ruled that common-sense gun safety measures are legal, including concealed carry permitting laws, minimum age laws and laws that allow law enforcement and family members to take action when someone poses a risk to themselves or others. Whether you're looking at legal precedent or America's past, the case for upholding New York's permitting requirement is far stronger than the NRA's revisionist history.

But the American people—and the lawmakers they have elected to protect their interests—should look at this case not just backward through history, but also forward into the future. Last year was one of the deadliest on record in the United States, with the highest rate of gun violence since 1994. In order to reverse that trend, we need more gun safety laws, not fewer—and the vast majority of Americans know it. However the nine justices decide, millions of Americans who want to keep themselves and their families safe from gun violence will keep fighting for common-sense laws.

John Feinblatt is president of Everytown for Gun Safety.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.