The Great Gun Control War of the Twentieth Century - and Its Lessons for Gun Laws Today
Kopel, David B., Fordham Urban Law Journal
The loss in federal district court was predictable, because the district judge had already told a television interviewer that he thought the ban was constitutional. The Seventh Circuit upheld the ban 2-1. (295) Dissenting Judge Coffey based his argument for a right to own a defensive handgun in the home not on the Second Amendment, but on the privacy rights protected by the Liberty Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. (296)
The NRA sought relief in the United States Supreme Court, which issued one of its most highly publicized denials of a petition for a writ of certiorari in October 1983. (297) When the Illinois Supreme Court finally decided the state constitutional law case, it upheld the Morton Grove ban 4-3. (298)
The Morton Grove cases were an important setback for gun rights in the courts, but there was a silver lining for gun advocates. Handgun bans were now a hot button political issue. The growing movement to ban handguns energized gun owners. For NRA lobbyists in the state legislatures, the Illinois bans were the horror story used to convince state legislators that gun bans were a genuine threat. (299) In response, state after state enacted preemption laws forbidding some or all local gun regulation. (300) The impact of these preemption efforts was evident when California's preemption statute was invoked to overturn ordinances banning handguns in San Francisco. (301)
Handgun prohibition turned out to be much more difficult to achieve than Pete Shields had imagined in 1976, when he suggested that it might take seven to ten years to get to a national ban. (302) The handgun prohibition surge that began in the 1970s had stalled. Ultimately, D.C. was entirely alone in forbidding the use of a gun for self-defense in the home. As Jack Balkin has observed, the Supreme Court tends to be more likely to find violations in laws that are national outliers. (303) While it is impossible to know for sure, it is plausible that the outcome of Heller and McDonald is partly attributable to the fact that handgun prohibition remained very rare in the United States, and that no jurisdiction copied D.C.'s ban on home self-defense with a lawfully owned firearm.
Rather than giving up, Handgun Control, Inc. learned how to make effective use of ancillary issues.
The first of these was the "cop-killer bullet." The bullets were formally known as KTW bullets, the name derived from the developers, Dr. Paul Kopsch and two police officers named Turcus and Ward. (304) While ordinary bullets have a lead core, KTW bullets used brass or iron. (305) The KTW bullet has a conical shape, and was designed for shooting through glass or a car door. (306) The bullets were developed for police special weapons teams and had not been available for sale to the general public since the 1960S. (307) They were sometimes called "Teflon bullets," but that was a misnomer, since Teflon is commonly used as a coating on bullets, and it does nothing to make the gun more likely penetrate a bullet-resistant vest. (308)
The "cop-killer bullet" bill introduced by Rep. Mario Biaggi (D-N.Y.) went far beyond banning the KTW bullet. It would have outlawed most of the centerfire rifle ammunition in the United States. (309) The NRA pointed out the broad scope of the Biaggi ban, and the fact that there had never been a case in which an officer was killed by "armor-piercing" ammunition penetrating a vest. (310)
Nevertheless, the NRA was trapped. Its arguments depended on the technical details of ammunition ballistics. While those arguments were sufficient to block the ban in Congress, at the more general level of public debate, the NRA was tagged with supporting "cop-killer bullets." (311) This did lasting damage to the traditional connection between the NRA and law enforcement. (312)
The 1976 Massachusetts and 1982 California handgun campaigns had revealed that many police were gun owners and …
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Publication information: Article title: The Great Gun Control War of the Twentieth Century - and Its Lessons for Gun Laws Today. Contributors: Kopel, David B. - Author. Journal title: Fordham Urban Law Journal. Volume: 39. Issue: 5 Publication date: October 2012. Page number: 1570+. © 2009 Fordham Urban Law Journal. COPYRIGHT 2012 Gale Group.
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