The Supreme Court of the United States just struck down the Washington D.C.’s ban on handguns arguing that it was unconstitional. But were they right, or has the SCOTUS dropped down on it’s knees before the almightly NRA? Or are they defending freedom and justice worldwide in a fashion worthy of Superman? The full text of their opinion can be found here. The 12 Angry Men discuss…
Angry New Mexican
The District of Columbia v. Heller ruling shipped with it’s own set of knee-pads for the SCOTUS. And a tube of astroglide. And a sawhorse. Because at the end of the day, the ruling was nothing so much as a sell-out to the NRA. Now, granted, the SCOTUS didn’t go out and endorse the public ownership of crew-served weaponry, but barring that minor oversight, the Opinion of the Court, as penned by Justic Anton “Kill ’em all” Scalia, was the largest victory in court for the NRA in decades. Let me explain.
The first holding of the court was another wonderful example of conservative judicial activism. The court held that the Second Ammendment grants “an individual right to posess a firearm unconnected to service in a militia.” While that opinion has been widely held by many Americans and has been the de facto policy of the land in many states, it’s really not what the Second Ammendment says, given that it allows for the right to bear arms explicitly due to the need of a militia. Justice Stevens notes as much in his dissent.
Second, the court overturned the District’s requirement for trigger locks. Nevermind the fact that trigger locks save lives each and every year — by making guns less likely to be accidentally fired — the iron will of the NRA will broker no exceptions. The Court’s assertion that trigger locks makes it “impossible for citizens to use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense” is laughable. Justice Breyer’s dissent points out the absurdity of the majority’s reading of the DC statute which lead to this holding.
Finally, the court struck down the ban on handguns because the law “amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of `arms’ that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense.” The holding there is a bit disturbing since the identical logic could be used against say, an assault weapons ban, should assault weapons become more popular among Americans (no doubt the NRA already has this idea in mind). The idea that if a sizable minority of American’s use gun X nobody can ban it, is another blow to federalism, as it potentially allows (a minority of) states with liberal gun laws to override the laws of those who have stricter laws.
For all these reasons, and the others that Justices Stevens and Breyer enumerate, this was a bad decision. But I’m sure Justice Scalia will have a nice hunting vacation sometime this fall.
Angry Overeducated Catholic
Well, you are of course, free to make up meanings for words whenever you wish, but for those who care about the accepted meanings of words, here’s what the actual Second Amendment actually says:
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.
Let’s leave aside arguments over the meaning of Militia in the 17th and 18th centuries, and just point out that the structure is: “For this reason, this right shall not be infringed.” Whatever the reason is, it cannot override or destroy the right that follows. It may inform our understanding of limits to it, but not so far as to be a weapon to destroy the natural right being enumerated. And that right is clear: the right of the people to keep and bear Arms.
The Constitution can enumerate rights of states, and if the writers had intended the revisionist meaning ANM proposes, they certainly could have said “the right of the states…” But their intent was never to simply support the states over the Federal government, but to state clearly that basic rights of humanity include the right to the means of defense, survival, and—if need be—rebellion against tyranny. Let’s not forget that these were radicals, folks—radicals who had just overthrown their King and “lawful” government not 20 years ago.
And the notion of “conservative judicial activism” is laughable here. Originally, of course, pesky things like the Bill of Rights did not apply to the states or localities. Established churches, draconian gun regulations, trampling civil rights—all fine at the state level, originally. “Activism” is particularly funny here, because the champion of Incorporation (incorporating the Bill of Rights into the Fourteenth Amendment which does explicitly apply to the states) was, of course, a strict constructionist. Indeed, he was in many ways similar to Scalia in his belief that we should actually follow the document we have and not the “living document” we’d like to have.
So, perhaps rather than shilling for the NRA, Scalia is simply being faithful to that icon of Incorporation, Hugo Black!