RICHMOND, Va. (Dec. 2, 2015) – A bill prefiled in the Virginia House of Delegates takes an interesting first step toward protecting the right to keep and bear arms from federal infringement by defining it in statute as an individual right unconnected with the militia.
Delegates Mark L. Cole and (R) Charles D. Poindexter (R) prefiled House Bill 49 (HB49) on Nov. 25. The short bill essentially codifies the Supreme Court opinion handed down in District of Columbia v. Heller. The legislation amends the Virginia code, adding a section that states:
“The right to keep and bear arms conferred by Article I, Section 13 of the Constitution of Virginia and the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is an individual right that is unconnected with militia service.”
The legislation goes on to clearly state the intent of the language.
“That it is the expressed intent of the General Assembly that this act codify the opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008).”
The opinions of Supreme Court justices don’t necessarily coincide with the actual, intended meaning of the Constitution. In fact, more often than not they don’t. But in the case of Heller, the majority did properly articulate the original understanding of the Second Amendment.
“The Amendment’s prefatory clause announces a purpose, but does not limit or expand the scope of the second part, the operative clause. The operative clause’s text and history demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms.”
While the Supreme Court can’t legitimately alter the meaning or intent of the Constitution, it can affirm it, as it did in Heller. The decision doesn’t fundamentally change anything. It wouldn’t have changed anything even if the opinion had gone the other way. The meaning of the Second Amendment was fixed at the time of ratification and cannot be altered without further amendment.
But a decision like Heller does have a practical impact, and HB49 seeks to capitalize on that. With the right to keep and bear arms codified as an individual right in state law, it would create a foundation for further state action to protect it from federal infringement. HB49 potentially removes a hurdle that opponents could throw in front of further legislation to preserve the Second Amendment. They can’t say “that’s not what the Second Amendment means,” with it clearly codified in state law. Passage of HB49 would color and support every future Virginia bill addressing the right to keep and bear arms.
Legal frameworks like this become particularly important during the legislative process. Many state representatives and senators have law degrees. Lawyers often chair important committees. Clearing away legal arguments forces representatives to address legislation on its merits and prevents opponents from killing bills based on legal technicalities.
HB49 represents a nice first step toward protecting the right to keep and bear arms from federal infringement in Virginia. If successfully passed, it would set the stage to introduce legislation to stop state cooperation with the enforcement of federal gun laws.
For more information on the steps forward, click HERE.