Ray Nothstine: Court decisions should prompt General Assembly on Second Amendment

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 18, 2021

By Ray Nothstine

Despite corporate media and many politicians clamoring for more gun control measures, an inherent right continues to expand in much of the nation today.  

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals made Second Amendment history in July by expanding the right of those under 21 to purchase handguns. While the ruling doesn’t take immediate effect, and the Supreme Court may ultimately decide the issue, the federal court has jurisdiction over North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Maryland, and West Virginia. In 1968 a federal law restricted licensed handgun sales to anybody under 21.  

When it comes to an inherent right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the court refused “to relegate either the Second Amendment or 18- to 20-year-olds to a second-class status.”  

Further good news is that since the 2008 Heller decision, many courts have shifted their rulings towards deeper respect of the plain meaning of the text in the Bill of Rights.  

“The phrase ‘the people’ meant the same thing in the Second Amendment as it did in the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments — that is, each and every free person,” declares Stephen P. Halbrook, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute.  

State legislatures have been even more aggressive in protecting the right to bear arms. Twenty-one states now have constitutional carry, and Tennessee, Iowa, Montana, Texas, and Utah have all passed permitless carry laws in 2021. Louisiana may be next if they can secure the necessary votes to override Gov. Jon Bell Edwards’s recent veto. Even three New England states have constitutional carry.  

Why does North Carolina continue to lag on gun rights? Guns & Ammo magazine no longer ranks North Carolina in the top half of states, ranking 27th nationally.  

Not all the blame falls on Gov. Roy Cooper, given that Republicans in the state legislature could not pass constitutional carry before his tenure, even with a Republican governor and supermajority legislature.  

Furthermore, Republicans have been unable to repeal the Jim Crow pistol permit process, an early 20th-century law passed in North Carolina to curtail black citizens exercising a right to bear arms. No other state in the Southeast still has this law, given its racist past. Also, firearm purchases from licensed dealers already require federal background checks. New residents to North Carolina that are impacted by gun laws are frequently shocked that North Carolina still has such a draconian firearm measure.  

Republicans in the General Assembly are running out of excuses. They have done excellent work on issues like budget and taxes but have failed on one of the most basic functions of government – protecting and securing the rights of citizens.  

Seeing other states surpass North Carolina so quickly on securing a right inherent in the Constitution should be troubling for citizens. In “The Federalist,” James Madison notes that America is unique from Europe because the citizenry rules over the government, and unlike Europe, the people are trusted with arms.  

In his 1833 commentary on the U.S. Constitution, former Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story called the right to bear arms one of the “palladium liberties of the republic.” Story further explains its purpose is a moral check against government tyranny that potentially allows for the “people to resist and triumph over them.” 

The Second Amendment strikes at the heart of our capacity for self-government. If our rights are not protected by the government, it inevitably dilutes the moral authority of the state. The issue remains a great reminder for legislators to align themselves with first principles over politics.  

Ray Nothstine is opinion editor of the Carolina Journal, where this column first appeared.