The Supreme Court, in District of Columbia v Heller, just this week, struck down the District of Columbia’s (highly ineffective) 32 year old ban on handgun ownership. I have not yet read the 5-4 decision, but am pleased that at least 5 justices were wise enough to give some meaning to the Second Amendment. It is short, sweet and easy to read:
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.
The Court majority acknowledged what has always seemed obvious to me and millions of other Americans: in some form or fashion, people have a constitutionally-guaranteed right to own firearms. Anyone being honest about the subject would have to concede that at least some form of gun ownership for some purpose was intended by the framers of the Constitution.
Unfortunately, like any other hot button issue, people are not honest about it. Their personal feelings about guns and gun ownership make them dismissive of this enumerated right. Gun control advocates – the most ardent of the bunch – would dismiss the entire amendment on the grounds that since militias are really part of the United States armed forces (they exist now in the form of national guards of the various states), gun ownership for you and me is not a right.
Why is it that some want the broadest interpretations of constitutional protections like free speech, press or religion, but want the narrowest interpretations of other constitutional provisions? The First Amendment does not explicitly guarantee freedom of expression; yet, that “right” has been gleaned from the document and used to permit all sorts of behavior, even stripping and burning stuff (think bras or flags.) Of course, the right to have an abortion is stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster by the so-called “penumbra of rights” implied in the Constitution. If we can infer rights from the document, we can certainly acknowledge rights expressly stated in it.
I’m hardly a gun nut. The only guns I own are those bulging beneath my shirt sleeves. I have no interest in gun ownership. I also know that, if guns were taken out of everyone’s hands, we would all be safer. (When I say everyone, I mean, literally, everyone, not just NRA members or gang bangers.) But we cannot do that practically speaking. In April 2006, the mayor of D.C. conceded that the District’s gun ban was not working:
Even though the District of Columbia has a zero-tolerance policy on illegal guns and even though we have some of the most restrictive laws on the country regarding guns, our city remains plagued by gun violence and we continue to mourn the loss of too many innocent victims,” said Mayor Williams. “Unfortunately, illegal guns know no borders especially when gun laws differ so widely from state to state. Gun crime requires a national approach, and this summit will get us started in that direction.
One would think, or at least hope, that D.C.’s gun ban would have made it a safe place to live but apparently telling people not to do something doesn’t prevent them from doing it. I was not aware of this tendency in human nature.
Laws should not be found constitutional or unconstitutional based on solely on their utility. Arguments can be made for curtailing or expanding any rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, depending on the ends to be achieved. But if the government is going to disregard the clear language of one constitutional provision, i.e. take away peoples’ rights, the “fix” better solve some sort of problem.
Now the real battles begin. The pro and anti gun forces will be in court for the next decade, seeking further interpretation of the Second Amendment in light of Heller. Pay attention. This should be interesting.