(The New Yorker) -- Notwithstanding the most recent spate of mass shootings, over the past weekend, the prospects for gun-control legislation in Congress appear remote. The reason is no mystery. The National Rifle Association and its allies in the gun lobby maintain a firm grip on the Republican Party, including President Trump, and thus on veto power over the passage, or even the consideration, of measures to curb gun violence. But the power of the N.R.A. extends beyond its control of the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. It’s less well known that the N.R.A. has also transformed the judiciary and, in the process, rewritten our understanding of the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
For about two hundred years, the meaning of the Second Amendment was clear and mostly undisputed, despite the gnarled syntax of the text itself: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Generations of Supreme Court and academic opinion held that the amendment did not confer on individuals a right “to keep and bear Arms” but, rather, referred only to the privileges belonging to state militias. This was not a controversial view. The late Chief Justice Warren E. Burger said, in 1991, that the idea that the Second Amendment conferred a right for individuals to bear arms was “a fraud on the American public.” Burger was no liberal, and his view simply reflected the overwhelming consensus on the issue at the time.