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Editorial

A timely discussion

Helmke
Marcus
Merkel

“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.”

– The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Want to see a politician run away? Just say two little words: “gun regulations.”

The cowardly refusal by Congress earlier this year to limit assault rifles or to approve simple background checks for gun purchasers might have seemed like the last gasps of a dying movement to enact sensible gun laws.

But as a diversity of speakers at Indiana Tech made clear Friday, key questions on this highly emotional subject are far from settled.

It was the first symposium at Tech’s new state-of-the-art law school, and the scope was national. But Fort Wayne’s bitter harvest of gun-related deaths this fall gave the discussion more of the feel of a community meeting than of an academic conference.

Among the participants was former Mayor Paul Helmke, who headed the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence for five years.

Surprisingly, there was a particularly robust dissection of the intent and applications of 27 of the most parsed-over words in the U.S. Constitution – the Second Amendment.

The Supreme Court has wrestled with the nuances of the amendment only a few times, but that may be changing. A decision in 2008 in Washington, D.C., affirmed that individuals have the right to keep firearms in their homes for self-defense. And a 2010 decision that overturned Chicago’s ban on guns made it clear that local governments can’t supersede federal gun-rights safeguards.

Constitutional scholar Bill Merkel made it clear, though, that “a ton of questions are left open.” In the Washington case, “the right established is defense of the home,” said Merkel, an associate professor at the Charleston School of Law. But still undetermined are:

•“The scope of the right to carry weapons outside the home.”

•Whether there is a limitation on the number of weapons a homeowner can own. “Do you need a gun upstairs and downstairs?” Merkel asked.

•Is there a “right to collect” firearms, distinct from the right to bear weapons for self-defense?

“That seems intuitively less fundamental,” Merkel said.

•Can communities or states require mandatory safety training, as Michigan, for example, now does for those who seek a concealed pistol license?

•What about registration of firearms? Barring felons from owning guns? Barring weapons from public buildings and schools?

Nancy Marcus, Tech’s founding constitutional law professor, posed questions on a wholly different front.

She began with a video that showed individuals designing, making and firing 3-D plastic firearms that seemed every bit as deadly as traditional handguns and semi-automatic rifles.

Currently, the video’s narrator said, 3-D printers can produce every part of a gun except the firing pin and bullets. And, Marcus said, such printers now cost just $1,000 to $2,000.

Society hasn’t begun to catch up with this technology, she continued.

“The metal in the firing pin may trigger some metal detectors,” she said. “But for the most part, they’re undetectable and untraceable.”

Trying to stop plastic guns poses all kinds of rights questions.

Efforts to stop people from posting blueprints for making such weapons, she said, may run up against First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Those issues defy easy solutions, as do many others dealt with in Friday’s sessions at the Tech law school. But the discussions were a valued reminder that the need to wrestle intelligently with gun regulations doesn’t go away just because lawmakers would rather not face it.

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