The insensitivity of gun-rights devotees is mind-boggling. They see in the Second Amendment a license for a pure, absolute right that should exist unfettered by regulations or, in their lexicon, “burdens.” Yet even this conservative iteration of the Supreme Court, even as it ruled in 2008 that individuals have a right to bear arms, concedes the government has a right to regulate arms. “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in District of Columbia v. Heller. Just this week the high court declined to reconsider the right of cities and states to ban assault weapons, with the effect of leaving existing bans in place.
It would be, as Scalia said, unusual indeed if this particular right came with no restrictions. We have freedom of speech and the press, but we can’t slander or libel or create a riot by falsely yelling fire in a crowded theater. We have freedom of religion, but polygamy is illegal and parents can be prosecuted for withholding lifesaving medical treatment from their children. We have freedom of assembly, but sometimes we must abide by government curfews and apply for government permits. We have a right to privacy, but the government retains its right to abridge it for such purposes as catching terrorists or curbing abortions.