Amy Coney Barrett's Record On Guns Worries Gun Control Groups The Supreme Court has largely ducked Second Amendment cases for years. But if the Senate confirms Trump's pick, Amy Coney Barrett, that could produce a big shift on gun regulations.

Gun Control Groups Voice 'Grave Concerns' About Supreme Court Nominee's Record

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/921713631/922589595" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court says that she shares the outlook of her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMY CONEY BARRETT: His judicial philosophy is mine, too.

SIMON: But on the issue of the Second Amendment, Amy Coney Barrett seems to have staked out an even more conservative position. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports that changes to gun regulations could be on the way if Barrett is confirmed.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: A dozen years ago, the Supreme Court ruled people have a right to keep handguns at home to defend themselves. But since that time, the high court has mostly avoided taking on new gun cases. Ilya Shapiro publishes the Supreme Court Review at the libertarian Cato Institute.

ILYA SHAPIRO: Well, the Supreme Court has been derelict in not fleshing out the scope of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

JOHNSON: But if Amy Coney Barrett wins Senate confirmation, the court's approach to the Second Amendment could be in for a big shift.

KRIS BROWN: We are very worried about what a much more conservative-leaning court hostile to a reasonable interpretation of the Second Amendment could do.

JOHNSON: Kris Brown is president of Brady: United Against Gun Violence.

BROWN: There's a whole host of public safety bills and laws that we've had in effect for a quarter-century, including the Brady background check system, that we are concerned about with her on the court.

JOHNSON: Brown says she isn't just speculating here. Last year, in a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, Judge Barrett laid out her thinking about gun rights. UCLA law professor Adam Winkler took note.

ADAM WINKLER: The opinion is very revelatory. It really shows that she has a very expansive view of gun rights, likely one even broader than Justice Antonin Scalia.

JOHNSON: Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion in the big Second Amendment case back in 2008. But Scalia made clear that nothing in the decision should cast doubt on restrictions to protect public safety, like the ban on convicted felons possessing firearms. Eleven years later in 2019, his protege, Judge Barrett, wrote that blanket ban violated the Second Amendment. Again, Adam Winkler.

WINKLER: We have had a long history of restricting felons from possessing firearms, even felons who are convicted of nonviolent felonies. Judge Barrett argues that if the felony is not a dangerous one, then the person cannot lose their right to bear arms.

JOHNSON: The 7th Circuit case involved a man convicted of mail fraud who served his time and wanted his gun rights back. The court majority rejected the idea, but Judge Barrett produced a 37-page dissent tracing the history of the Second Amendment and the history of punishing convicted felons. Shapiro of the Cato Institute weighed in on behalf of the plaintiff, who made orthopedic shoes and inserts.

SHAPIRO: Misrepresenting shoe inserts shouldn't disqualify him from being able to carry a firearm for his own self-defense, or Martha Stewart with her obstruction of justice. These are not what the enactors of either the Second Amendment or the 14th Amendment had in mind when they understood what kind of restrictions could be in place on this important right.

JOHNSON: But scores of federal judges have upheld that blanket ban. And UCLA's Winkler says Barrett's originalist approach to the Second Amendment could throw into question a lot of newer laws on the books.

WINKLER: There's a lot of gun laws we have on the books that don't have strong historical precedents. We only started banning machine guns from civilian hands in the 1980s. Does that mean that there's a constitutional right to have machine guns because there's no strong historical precedent for banning those weapons?

JOHNSON: The Supreme Court has ducked most big gun cases, in part because the more conservative wing of the court wasn't sure where Chief Justice John Roberts stood. But if President Trump gets his way, experts on both sides of the political aisle agree Justice Barrett could easily provide a fourth vote to agree to hear more gun cases and a fifth vote to ease some restrictions on gun rights.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.