For the first time in our nation’s history, the US Supreme Court (the highest court in the land whose rulings can only be overruled by amendments to the US Constitution — which is the document that rules our body of government and law) has directly addressed the meaning of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution (“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.”) and ruled that said amendment protects an individual’s right to bear arms (own guns). Previously, the Supreme Court has only taken on the issue and ruled on matters pertaining to the individual States’ rights to bear arms in order to maintain a militia but has remained silent on the rights of individuals. This silence has allowed individual states to enact various forms of gun control in order to limit (for the good of the people) individual rights of gun ownership. I realize that this sort of news isn’t usually the kind of fare that we enjoy around here but (since I am a student of political science, history and government) I find this ruling hugely important and worth discussion:
The Supreme Court declared for the first time on Thursday that the Constitution protects an individual’s right to have a gun, not just the right of the states to maintain militias. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority in the 5-to-4 decision, said the Constitution does not allow “the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.” In so declaring, the majority found that a gun-control law in the nation’s capital went too far in making it nearly impossible to own a handgun. The decision upheld a federal appeals court ruling that the District of Columbia’s gun law, one of the strictest in the country, went beyond constitutional limits. Not only did the 1976 law make it practically impossible for an individual to legally possess a handgun in the District, but it spelled out rules for the storage of rifles and shotguns. But the long-awaited decision did not necessarily mean that gun laws from coast to coast, many of them far less restrictive than Washington’s, would be swept aside. Joining Justice Scalia were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito Jr. A dissent by Justice John Paul Stevens asserted that the majority “would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons.” Joining him were Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. The high court’s ruling was the first since 1939 to deal with the scope of the Second Amendment, and the first ever to directly address the meaning of the amendment’s ambiguous, comma-laden text: “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 concluded that the amendment protects an individual right to bear arms, but it also said that the right is not absolute, opening the door for more fights in the future. Lawmakers across the country may look to the decision as a blueprint for writing new legislation to satisfy the demands of constituents who say there is too much regulation of firearms now, or too little, depending on the sentiments in their regions.
Again, I have to stress how monumentally fascinating this is for me. I studied Constitutional Law in college (as my plan was to eventually go to law school) and I know how much of a big deal it is when the US Supreme Court makes a ruling like this. Altho the court qualified their ruling by stating that the individual’s right to bear arms “isn’t absolute”, it’s hugely significant that the court took on the specificity of how the Second Amendment applies to individual citizens. While I personally am for gun control (in that I don’t believe that any ol’ person should just be able to walk into a gun shop and purchase a weapon without some sort of screening process), I have to side with the Supreme Court on this ruling … I’ve always personally have been of the mind that the Second Amendment applies to individual citizens but prior to this ruling that was never made clear by the Supreme Court. I don’t always agree with the rulings of the court (I’m having a hard time swallowing their other recent ruling that the death penalty cannot be applied to cases of child rape because it is “cruel and usual punishment”) but I think they got this one right.