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.–United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, Second Amendment
Legal scholars, political scientists, historians, and activists on both sides of the gun-rights/gun-control issue have debated the precise meaning of this sentence for as long as I’ve been alive and well before that. Gun-control advocates often refer to the “militia clause” of the amendment, claiming the Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms only to government regulated bodies, state militias. Gun-rights organizations have continually countered that Framers notion of “the people” referred to individuals, not collectivities.
The Supreme Court, which has been close to silent on this issue for two centuries, has ruled a Washington, DC ban on handguns unconstitutional. The Court’s landmark 5-4 decision ruled the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms. This is the first time the Court has placed gun rights on a similar plane as the right to free speech, a right accorded explicitly to the individual, not to groups.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing the opinion for the majority said an individual right to bear arms exists and is supported by “the historical narrative” both before and after the Second Amendment was adopted. Scalia added, the ruling should not “cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.”
This decision opens the doors for similar bans to be overturned in New York, California, Massachusetts, and other states. The NRA is gearing up for lawsuits in Chicago in San Francisco. Gun-control advocates fear the ruling will facilitate the elimination of background checks, fingerprinting and registration fees. Columbia Law School Professor Nathaniel Persily, reflecting his disappointment with the decision said, “The NRA has its precedent, and now it’s going to use it to try to strike down various restrictions around the country.” Professor Persily added, “We don’t know what the next shoe to drop will be.”
March Sherman (AP) notes:
The reaction broke less along party lines than along the divide between cities wracked with gun violence and rural areas where gun ownership is embedded in daily life. Democrats have all but abandoned their long push for stricter gun laws at the national level after deciding it’s a losing issue for them. Republicans welcomed what they called a powerful precedent.
Given the general failure of gun-control in urban areas I am wonder why so many clear-thinking people would stick to these policies. Much of it is fear, the notion that more guns in the community cannot lead to any positive outcome and will only result in more gun violence. Yet DC has had gun-control for three decades and regularly leads the country in incidences of violent crime. And when the “assault-weapons” ban ended in 2004, there was no spike in violence associated with semi-automatic rifles. I suspect similar results in DC.
The strongest argument made by gun-control advocates are the statistics comparing the likelihood of using your gun in self-defense versus it being used accidentally or willingly by someone in your home. Watching the local news in NYC it is a fairly regular occurrence to read about a child killed accidentally, usually in play. These events are extremely tragic and for many, getting rid of guns is the answer. As Professor David Hemenway at Harvard’s School of Public Health states:
The scientific evidence is very strong that raising the speed limit increases deaths, as does repealing motor cycle helmet laws. The scientific evidence is also very strong that, all other things equal, more guns in the United States means more death– more homicide, more suicide, more unintentional gun deaths.
One thing that has been disconcerting to me is some of the discussions–among family, friends and colleagues, on C-SPAN and blogs–point to a fundamental misunderstanding about the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. First and Second Amendment advocates will often argue that these amendments provide their right to free speech or the right to own arms. However, according to the Declaration of Independence, the right to free speech and self-defense are ours naturally as human beings and given to us by our Creator:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…
The First and Second Amendments delineate the role of government by proscribing what government cannot do. The Framers recognized the government is not granting anyone these rights as they are ours at birth. This is not simply a theoretical or semantic matter. It leads to fundamentally different conceptions about rights and where they originate. It also leads to a different idea about the state and the function of public policy than in many other countries.
LA Times: Supreme Court Affirms Gun Rights
New York Sun: After Nine’s Gun Ruling, N.Y.’s Gun Laws May be Next
Dave Workman: Court ruling protects our gun rights