Local gun laws? Not here

The Observer editorial board

An employee places an empty magazine in an assault-style rifle at the RTSP shooting range in Randolph, New Jersey on Wednesday.
An employee places an empty magazine in an assault-style rifle at the RTSP shooting range in Randolph, New Jersey on Wednesday. AFP/Getty Images

In June 2013, months after the horrific shootings in Newtown, Conn., the town of Highland Park, Ill., passed an ordinance prohibiting the ownership of semi-automatic assault weapons with high-capacity magazines.

Besides reacting to the killing of 26 people at Sandy Hook, the town council was trying to beat the clock on a new state law that would soon block local governments from enacting gun control measures.

The Illinois State Rifle Association and a local resident challenged the law. Twenty-four states would file a supporting brief in the case. But a federal appeals court in Chicago sided with the town, and on Monday the U.S. Supreme Court effectively did too.

It’s far from the first time the Supreme Court has declined to hear a Second Amendment challenge against local and state gun control measures. In June, for example, the court declined to hear a challenge to two San Francisco ordinances challenged by the NRA. As with the Highland Park law, only Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas voted to hear the case.

The court’s non-action in those two cases and others will likely embolden cities and states to pass their own gun-control provisions rather than waiting on a Congress loyal to the NRA to do so. While certain regulations need to be national in scope to be effective, a place-by-place response acknowledges that the gun culture in Miami is different from the one in Cheyenne.

Perhaps Charlotte and other N.C. cities will now consider banning certain weapons? If they do, they’re wasting their time. North Carolina’s Democrat-led legislature passed a so-called preemption law in 1995 preventing it.

“Unless otherwise permitted by statute,” GS 14-409.40(b) reads, “no county or municipality, by ordinance, resolution, or other enactment, shall regulate in any manner the possession, ownership, storage, transfer, sale, purchase, licensing, or registration of firearms, firearms ammunition, components of firearms, dealers in firearms, or dealers in handgun components or parts.”

Well that pretty much covers it, doesn’t it? We’re guessing that this legislature, even with its conservative bent, would not back the conservative idea of pushing control of this issue to the level of government closest to the people.

But it should. Besides furthering local self-governance, lawmakers could do so with the confidence that the basic Second Amendment right the preemption law was designed to protect has been explicitly affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2008 and again in 2010.

Duke Law professor Joseph Blocher pointed out in the New York Times this week that there’s no reason gun restrictions need to be the same in urban areas as in rural ones. Stricter regulation in urban areas makes sense. “This kind of geographic tailoring offers some political and constitutional solutions to the current stalemate,” Blocher writes.

North Carolina’s legislature should consider that, in this case, different approaches in different areas make a lot of sense.