Any political effort that might gain steam to restrict the sale of firearms and ammunition in the aftermath of the massacre of moviegoers at a suburban Denver theater eventually would run up against the legal reality of two U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the Second Amendment.
Issues of gun sales, especially assault rifles and large amounts of ammunition, have come into the forefront since a single gunman entered an Aurora, Colo., theater shortly after midnight Friday and began firing indiscriminately at men, women and children. James Eagan Holmes, 24, appeared in court for the first time Monday in Arapahoe County, Colo., on charges of killing 12 people and wounding 58 others during the assault at a premier showing of "The Dark Knight Rises."
Initial press reports indicate that Holmes, who previously had no criminal record, legally purchased four weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition either in person or through the Internet.
Even if a politically controversial measure to restrict assault weapon sales or limit the amount of ammunition that can be sold to one buyer makes headway, it would confront the historic rulings the Supreme Court issued in 2008 and 2010 that said Americans have the individual right to buy firearms.
"The question now is, what sort of gun regulations can you have. And particularly, can you sell these semi-automatic weapons," said Michael Curtis, professor of constitutional and public law at the Wake Forest University School of Law.
In the wake of shootings such as the one Friday in Colorado or the attempted assassination of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords a year and a half ago in Arizona, Curtis wonders if the Supreme Court would invalidate any new firearms restrictions or carve out an exception for semi-automatic weapons.
The Supreme Court decisions, along with the powerful political lobby of the National Rifle Association and gun rights groups, will deter elected officials from tackling gun control in the stretch run of an election year, said Matthew DeSantis, professor of political science at Guilford Technical Community College.
"No lawmaker wants to write a law, knowing it's likely it will be overturned by the Supreme Court," DeSantis said. "It's clear that the Supreme Court doesn't look kindly on restrictions of basic Second Amendment rights, and they will go far to protect this."
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