Courts reviewing gun laws that burden Second Amendment rights ask how effectively the laws serve public safety — yet typically discuss public safety narrowly, without considering the many dimensions of that interest gun laws serve. “Public safety” is a social good: it includes the public's interest in physical safety as a good in itself, and as a foundation for community and for the exercise of constitutional liberties. Gun laws protect bodies from bullets — and Americans' freedom and confidence to participate in every domain of our shared life, whether to attend school, to shop, to listen to a concert, to gather for prayer, or to assemble in peaceable debate. Courts must enforce the Second Amendment in ways that respect the public health and constitutional reasons a democracy seeks to protect public safety. Lawyers and citizen advocates can help, by creating a richer record of their reasons in seeking to enact laws regulating guns.
This inquiry is urgent at a time when the Supreme Court's new conservative majority may expand restrictions on gun laws beyond the right to keep arms for self-defense in the home first recognized in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008.