Our view: The specter of a Supreme Court ready, willing and eager to expand gun rights hovers over Baltimore’s crime-fighting challenge
The decision of Baltimore’s school board on Tuesday not to allow school police officers to carry weapons during the day and the ongoing debate over whether to permit Johns Hopkins University to have an armed private police force — a hot-button proposal that former New York City mayor, gun control advocate and billionaire benefactor Michael Bloomberg endorsed this week — reflects the degree to which guns have become a central focus in Baltimore’s struggle with crime. Not only are we concerned about bad guys with guns; lots of people are concerned about good guys with guns, too. This is completely unsurprising given that of the 309 homicides reported in the city last year, 271, or 88 percent, were the result of gunfire. In other words, Baltimore’s murder problem and its gun problem are essentially one in the same.
Yet the most ominous news on that front isn’t whether there’s going to be a professional security team in Homeland with 9-mm Glocks strapped to their hips or whether school police are going to have to continue to rely on their words when confronting misbehaving teens, it’s the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to review a lawsuit involving New York City’s right to limit gun owners from carrying around their firearms outside their homes. The case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. New York may soon serve much the same function as the D.C. v. Heller case of 11 years ago as the means to greatly broaden the government’s interpretation of the Second Amendment.
Imagine a future in which neither the Baltimore City Council nor the Maryland General Assembly has the ability to bar most people from carrying their firearms on the streets, either openly or so-called “concealed carry.” This has been the dream of the National Rifle Association and its ardent followers for years. They want a return to Wild West standards where “good guys with guns” roam the frontier and can have their firearm holstered to their side whether riding public transit or sitting in church or shopping at the mall. No longer will such rights be grounded in home defense. And no longer will local standards prevail when visitors get their handgun permits from another state. In other words, if you think Baltimore has too many guns now, get ready to double-down.
Idle speculation, you say? Assuming the worst of the nation’s highest court? Leaping to conclusions? Prior to last October, you would have had a point. But times have changed, and you can point to one factor above all else: the arrival of Brett Kavanaugh to tip the scales.
Some may remember now-Justice Kavanaugh merely as the Georgetown Prep grad and federal appeals court judge accused of sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford decades ago. What they may have missed amid the inflammatory hearings, half-hearted FBI background investigation and partisan Senate confirmation vote was that Mr. Kavanaugh is about as in-the-tank for the NRA as federal judges come. Certainly, he is a more reliable vote to broaden Second Amendment rights than predecessor Anthony Kennedy who is remembered as a dampening influence on Heller. Small wonder that the conservative majority was happy to get a case like New York State Rifle on the docket.
Will the high court keep in place those restrictions confirmed in Heller (and in the last Supreme Court gun rights decision, McDonald v. City of Chicago) — acknowledging states have the right to restrict concealed carry, for example, or deny permits to felons or the mentally ill or keep guns out of schools — or will they seek to rewrite the U.S. Constitution entirely? We can probably count Neil Gorsuch, the court’s other relative newcomer, as in the latter camp, but since he took the seat of the late Antonin Scalia, that’s not a shift. Justice Kavanaugh is. The only question is, how far will this new five-member conservative majority be willing to go?
The court hasn’t even scheduled arguments yet, and so precedent won’t be set anytime soon, but Baltimoreans ought to be nervous. While there are doubtless Second Amendment absolutists who still cling to the theory that more guns mean less crime, that theory has been debunked — by at least 30 studies that suggest the opposite. Put more guns on Baltimore’s streets and you won’t cause criminals to cower, but you will endanger police and bystanders. Shouldn’t city residents be the ones to decide whether to embrace such a fate?