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The distance between here and Heller

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) talked to PBS's Judy Woodruff the other day, and when asked about a proposed assault weapons ban, the senator suggested the bill and related efforts are unconstitutional (thanks to James Carter for the tip).

There's certainly ample room for debate when it comes to the Second Amendment and various efforts to stem the tide of gun violence, but from time to time, it's worth noting that dismissing every proposal as necessarily unconstitutional is a mistake,

Back in 2008, in a case called District of Columbia v. Heller, a narrow Supreme Court majority answered a question that had lingered for a long while: does the Second Amendment protect an individual's right to "keep and bear arms," or is it a collective right belonging to well-regulated militias?

Five conservative justices, going even further than the Bush administration's lawyers had expected, sided with the former, striking down DC's ban on handgun ownership. So, does that effectively rule out post-Newtown restrictions? Actually, no. As Adam Liptak recently explained, there's quite a bit of policy work that can be done between the status quo and the Heller ruling's limits.

Despite the sweeping language of a 2008 Supreme Court decision that struck down parts of the District of Columbia's strict gun-control law, the decision appears perfectly consistent with many of the policy options being discussed after the shootings in Newtown, Conn. [...]

The courts have upheld federal laws banning gun ownership by people convicted of felonies and some misdemeanors, by illegal immigrants and by drug addicts. They have upheld laws making it illegal to carry guns near schools or in post offices. They have upheld laws concerning unregistered weapons. And they have upheld laws banning machine guns and sawed-off shotguns.

Looking ahead, Democratic policymakers seem to be focusing on banning high-capacity clips, improved background checks, and improved inter-agency information sharing related to gun crimes. Republicans may not like these ideas, there's nothing in the Supreme Court precedent that suggests such steps would be unconstitutional. Just the opposite is true.

Indeed, even in his Heller ruling, Antonin Scalia endorsed "longstanding prohibitions" on firearm ownership from felons and the mentally ill, guns in government buildings, limits on the commercial sale of guns, and bans on "dangerous and unusual weapons," including "M-16 rifles and the like."

Cruz should understand this -- as Carter reminds us, the senator "was the Council of Record for an Amicus Brief filed in the Heller case by Texas and other states."

As is always the case, it's hard to draw definitive lines until the justices actually hear a given case, but opponents of new restrictions won't necessarily be able to rely on Supreme Court cases to knock down every proposal that arises in the coming months.