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Debate on gun control should ask whether Congress has power to regulate

President Obama called for more gun control in his State of the Union address last night. The effectiveness of his proposals have been the subject of heated debate. But both sides are missing the larger question: Does Congress even have the right to regulate or ban guns?

Gun control has become one of the preeminent battles of 2013. During a press conference last month, in which he was surrounded by children, President Obama urged Congress to ban “assault” (automatic) weapons, limit magazines to 10 bullets, and introduce universal background checks for all firearm buyers. And last night, Mr. Obama again called for this regulation in his State of the Union address. Naming those affected by gun violence, he asserted to a cheering, standing crowd: “They deserve a vote.”

Across the country, Americans are debating the effectiveness of Obama’s gun-control proposals. Commentators on the left argue that automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines aren’t necessary for home defense or hunting. On the right, the president’s critics say limiting guns won’t end violence and point out that no matter what laws Congress passes, criminals will still find ways to be well armed. The proposed legislation, they contend, simply would put law-abiding citizens at a disadvantage.

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