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After Supreme Court Ruling, Cities Face Restructuring of Gun Laws

June 28, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Well, as Marcia noted, today’s gun ruling is likely to have far-ranging impact on both sides of the debate.

Here to explain why are Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association of America.

I will start by asking you both of you, starting with you, Wayne LaPierre, what did the court do that was right?

And, in your case, Paul Helmke, what did the court do that was wrong?

WAYNE LAPIERRE, executive vice president, National Rifle Association: Well, I think it’s a landmark decision.

I mean, the court said the Second Amendment is now an individual right, and that’s a real part of American constitutional law. But Supreme Court decisions have to have consequences, or the whole premise of constitutional authority collapses. So, an incorporated right has to be a real right.

The intent of the court was to provide access. And the question today before the court was, do law-abiding citizens have the right to go out and buy and own a gun for self-protection or any lawful purpose? And the court today said, yes, anywhere they live.

Now our task is to make this ruling real city by city, block by block, state by state throughout the country, so all citizens can experience this freedom.

GWEN IFILL: It sounds like more lawsuits.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: A lot of work ahead.

PAUL HELMKE, president, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: It’s going to be a lot more lawsuits. And that’s the main thing. This is good for lawyers. This is good for criminal defense attorneys who are trying to get their clients off.

A couple things, real quickly. First of all, it’s not a surprising decision. Chicago basically lost once Washington, D.C. lost. The same five justices that ruled against Washington, D.C., are still on the bench. I heard the arguments in the Heller case, as well as the McDonald case. It was obvious they were going to rule that way. So, it’s not that much of a change.

It’s also a very limited decision. Chicago and Oak Brook are the only communities left in the country that have anything approaching a near handgun ban. It was Washington, D.C. Then it was Chicago. So, there’s nobody else that’s directly affected by this.

But the crucial part, it’s really a narrow scope for the Second Amendment that they talked about. Justice Alito talked about a gun — the Second Amendment gives you a right to have a gun in the home for self-defense. And then — and this is the crucial part — he repeated the language from Heller that says this right is not unlimited and that you can have restrictions on who gets guns, of where they take the guns, how the guns are sold, how the guns are carried, how the guns are stored, and even what kinds of guns there are.

So, in effect, the extremes are off the table. I think what we ought to do now, you don’t — you can’t have gun bans, but you can’t have this anybody, any gun, anywhere vision that I think Wayne pushes sometimes. Let’s find the common ground in the middle that is going to keep our communities safer.

GWEN IFILL: In your reading of that decision today, would it apply to, say, places like New Jersey or even New York City, which have other kinds of limitations placed on individual gun ownership?

WAYNE LAPIERRE: Gwen, it applies to every city, every town in the country.

And I understand, look, I mean, there are going to be groups like Paul’s that are — we’re going to have to fight to make sure this constitutional victory is not transformed into a practical defeat. There are going to be groups like Paul’s, politicians, defiant city councils that seek to nullify or reverse this Supreme Court decision via Byzantine labyrinths of restrictions and regulations that make this freedom inaccessible and unaffordable and impossible to access for the average citizen.

I mean, but, imagine — imagine, listen to Paul and then put the right to vote or the right to file a petition for a habeas corpus.

PAUL HELMKE: I’m quoting the Supreme Court. This is not Paul you’re hearing from.

GWEN IFILL: Let him finish, and then I will let you respond.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: … and all of these restrictions and rules. Next thing, we will be bringing back the poll tax or the literacy test. This is a freedom for all.

GWEN IFILL: Paul Helmke?

PAUL HELMKE: The court, first in the Heller case — and they repeated the language here — they mentioned that the First Amendment right is not unlimited. You can’t libel someone. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater. You can’t have pornography in public.

So, I think that’s part of what they’re saying here. There’s some balancing that needs to go on. There’s — the sad fact is there aren’t very many laws restricting access to guns on the books. There’s only a few at the federal level. There’s only a few communities and states that have done anything.

Most of the time, elected officials have been scared by people like Wayne from passing anything, saying, oh, that’s a Second Amendment right. That’s a Second Amendment right.

We can’t even do background checks from all sellers at gun shows because Wayne fights those sort of things.

GWEN IFILL: I want to talk about the practical effects of today’s ruling.

PAUL HELMKE: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: You say there — you say there will be more lawsuits.

You say there will be more lawsuits.

You say that’s a bad thing.

But how else do you make sure and define exactly what the court is talking about?

PAUL HELMKE: Lawsuits are never bad. I’m a lawyer. I defend the process of law.

There’s going to be a lot more lawsuits brought by criminal defendants and people like Wayne, but they’re going to lose most of those lawsuits, because the court has made it very clear that, as long as you don’t impact the right to have a gun in the home for self-defense, then you’re probably going to fall within those reasonable restrictions language that the court said in Heller were presumptively lawful.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: And all these restrictions he’s talking about, that they’re going to — roadblocks, this blizzard of roadblocks they’re doing, is to prevent the average citizen from getting access to this freedom.

And we’re going to fight for the freedom in every city, town, country — state in the country.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about what happened in Washington, D.C.

Two years ago, the court struck down a law much like this. In that time, have we seen crime go down, crime go up, individuals shooting, people breaking into their houses happen more frequently? All the things we say would happen if the court acted this way, has it happened?

WAYNE LAPIERRE: Unfortunately, what you have seen in Washington, D.C., is a defiant city council say you may be the Supreme Court and the intent was to provide access, but we’re the D.C. City Council. And we’re going to thumb our nose at you.

GWEN IFILL: How? How did they do…

GWEN IFILL: … saying you can’t buy a gun?

WAYNE LAPIERRE: Yes. They put so many obstacles that the average citizen in Washington, D.C., cannot get through this process.

PAUL HELMKE: And because of those new restrictions, people like Wayne brought a lawsuit, brought a couple lawsuits, against D.C., and the federal courts, applying the Heller definition of the Second Amendment, said that it’s OK.

And, actually, in that period of time, crime has gone down significantly. The police department is working with the new law, working with the people that have gotten the guns, working with the people that already had guns before the restrictions went into place in the mid-’70s, and crime is on the way down, still too much of it because still we make it too easy for dangerous people to get guns in this country.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: And because of those activist judges he’s talking about that I said are still going to be a problem, when the glass breaks in Washington, D.C., in the middle of the night, and some family is sitting there, and some criminal is coming at them, they’re still alone and defenseless against violent criminals.

PAUL HELMKE: You’re allowed to have a gun in the home for self-defense.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: That was not the — not the intent of the Supreme Court.

GWEN IFILL: Is there a middle ground here in which there is a way to come up with any…

GWEN IFILL: Let me finish the question, guys — where there is any acceptable limitation on guns being — private gun ownership?

WAYNE LAPIERRE: Let me tell you what we ought to do. Every city in this country, we ought to have a program called Project Exile, where every time a drug dealer touches a gun, gang member touches a gun, violent felon touches a gun, there’s 100 percent prosecution every single time.

And that will make people safe all over this country. But more restrictions on the honest people, denying them their constitutional rights, that’s not the way to go.

PAUL HELMKE: I fully agree that we need tough enforcement of our laws. I was a mayor in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for 12 years. I strengthened the police department. We need to put the bad guys away.

But I would like to prevent some of these crimes from occurring. And that means we need to make it harder for dangerous people to get guns, which means we ought to be doing background checks on all these sales, we ought to be stopping the illegal trafficking that’s going on of guns. And that means we need Wayne’s support for things like closing the gun show loophole, other commonsense things.

PAUL HELMKE: I’m willing to meet in the middle to discuss these things, but I can’t get a response.

GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you one final — moderator’s privilege here, one final question. Today, we saw Elena Kagan on Capitol Hill. One of the questions that were asked or raised about her background is whether she indeed — where she would come down in this Second Amendment fight.

What did you hear? What do you believe?

WAYNE LAPIERRE: You know, after watching Sotomayor, I honestly believe the change that President Obama is bringing to Washington is contradictory to the change he promised on the campaign trail, where he promised and — they gave flyers to Americans all over the country saying he would always support the Second Amendment.

His first nominee to the Supreme Court…

GWEN IFILL: What about Elena Kagan?

WAYNE LAPIERRE: She — there’s nothing in her track record that believes that she will be supportive. And I’m a Second Amendment absolutist. I don’t want anyone on the Supreme Court that’s not going to support…

PAUL HELMKE: President Obama hasn’t done a thing about the Second Amendment since he’s been in. We have been disappointed he’s not even willing to talk more about gun violence.

GWEN IFILL: Elena Kagan.

PAUL HELMKE: We’re still waiting to hear more of her testimony. It sounds like she’s going to be open-minded. She will follow precedent. Hopefully, she will…

GWEN IFILL: She has said Heller is settled law.

PAUL HELMKE: It is settled law. If I were taking a law school exam today, I would say, yes, you have got an individual right to have a gun in your home for self-defense.

GWEN IFILL: OK.

PAUL HELMKE: The main thing is, what do we do now to help reduce gun violence in our communities? And that’s where we need to work with people to find a common middle ground. And I hope people will start listening for that.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: Prosecute the criminals, and leave the good guys alone.

PAUL HELMKE: Let’s prevent some of the bad stuff from happening in the first place.

GWEN IFILL: Paul Helmke — both of you are going to try to get the last word in. And I’m going to have to stop it right here.

PAUL HELMKE: You get the last word.

GWEN IFILL: Paul Helmke with the Brady Campaign and Wayne LaPierre from the NRA, thank you both very much.

PAUL HELMKE: Thank you.