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The Second Amendment in the 21st Century: The Twin Developments of Constitutional Carry and Bans on Assault Weapons

It's not hard to see a future where many states allow so-called "constitutional carry" - your gun on your hip or in your purse - so long as it's not a submachine gun.

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In this post, we look at recent legal developments on guns, in North Carolina and on the national stage, starting with a proposal to allow conceal carry without a permit.

North Carolina's Proposal to Ditch the Conceal Carry Permit Requirement

On one hand, every law-abiding citizen has the right to carry a firearm. On the other, every law-abiding citizen should have at least a baseline level of know-how when it comes to guns and gun safety. That's the logic behind permits, which require citizens to go through training and education. The North Carolina Gun Rights organization, however, wants to eliminate the conceal carry permit requirement. Known as House Bill 69, gun owners could stash their firearms in their waistbands, just as they can in a visible holster under the open carry law, without the need to obtain a permit to do so. This is known as "constitutional carry," as in the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment.

Maryland's Ban on Assault Weapons

At the same time, a federal court has decided to let Maryland keep its ban on assault weapons. That state's ban - which Second Amendment advocates wanted killed - specifically banned semiautomatic guns like AR-15s and AK-47s. In its ruling, the court distinguished between weapons of war and weapons of self-defense. According to the court, war weapons are very good at killing people on the battlefield (as well as unarmed civilians in mass shootings) and are therefore unusual and dangerous. Thus, the Second Amendment does not protect these kinds of assault weapons, and Maryland's ban lives to see another day.

On the National Stage: The Hearing Protection Act

The National Firearms Act has regulated silencers on guns for decades, but the newly proposed Hearing Protection Act will reverse that regulation. In other words, the Hearing Protection Act will make it easier for Americans to get silencers for their guns if they want them. "It will be a boon to the industry," Sen. Chris Murphy said, "but it will be terrible for the country. Silencers are used to commit crimes. [...] The gun industry will do better, but lives will be lost." Silencer advocates, for their part, point to a lack of evidence that people actually use silencers to commit crimes; rather, silencers protect the hearing of hunters and target shooters.

Where does the Second Amendment go from here?

It's hard to extrapolate larger trends from just the three stories cited above. However, you can make out the outline of a nation that takes two paths simultaneously: (1) We continue to honor the right to bear arms through laws like constitutional carry, in which law-abiding citizens enjoy the unfettered right to possess a firearm. (2) We also continue to protect the democratic right of the people to decide for themselves how to regulate (or not) dangerous and unusual weapons - war weapons - as the federal court allowed for in the Maryland case, in light of the mass shootings that have plagued our nation in recent years.

No one seems to know the exact number of guns there are in the U.S., but it numbers in the hundreds of millions. According to the Pew Research Center, the figure is between 270 million to 310 million. "Gun ownership," as Pew Research writes, "is one of the hardest things for researchers to pin down." The comments section points out why: Gun owners in general aren't likely to tell pollsters and researchers (nor anyone outside of a friend or family member) about the guns they have in their homes. Pew Research nonetheless states that gun owners represent a minority in this country. Whether or not that's true, what remains true today is the highly politicized nature of guns and gun ownership under the Second Amendment.

That isn't likely to subside anytime soon.

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