Thursday, June 26, 2008

District of Columbia v. Heller

District of Columbia v. Heller is a landmark ruling. For the first time in U.S. history, the Supreme Court ruled that individual Americans have the right to own guns for personal use. The ruling struck down a strict gun control law in Washington, D.C. -- not a city rather a federal enclave.

The overturned 32 year old D.C. law banned private possession of handguns and required that any rifles or shotguns kept at home be unloaded and dissembled or bound by a trigger lock.

The 5-4 ruling marked the first time the high court has addressed whether the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects an individual right to keep and bear arms, rather than a right tied to service in a state militia.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Joining Justice John Paul Stevens on the decent were Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter.

Justice Antonin Scalia said that an individual right to bear arms is supported by "the historical narrative" both before and after the Second Amendment was adopted. The Constitution does not permit "the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home." The handgun is Americans' preferred weapon of self-defense in part because "it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police."

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote 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." He said such evidence "is nowhere to be found." [scary]

Justice Stephen Breyer said, "In my view, there simply is no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas." [scary]

"This is a great moment in American history. It vindicates individual Americans all over this country who have always known that this is their freedom worth protecting," declared NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. "Our founding fathers wrote and intended the Second Amendment to be an individual right. The Supreme Court has now acknowledged it. The Second Amendment as an individual right now becomes a real permanent part of American Constitutional law."
It is amazing to me how divided this court is. One would have thought that our 2nd amendment right was a slam dunk. With the liberalization of America and the Court moving away from making strict constitutionality rulings, the Court has become a political arbitrator.

It is like a close tennis match: it is as likely for one player wins a point, a game, the occasional set as the other. Today's ruling is one for the good guys, but the future is not bright. Just consider Speaker Pelosi's response to the ruling when she says that despite the Supreme Court decision, the District of Columbia will still be able to regulate firearms. In other words, laws are good if they support the liberal cause; if not, they are mere inconveniences.

There were four people -- Justices -- that feel that we do not have the right to bear arms, even though the Constitution says we do. The shock of the District of Columbia v. Heller ruling is that it came one vote away from going the other way.

In this case, the Constitution trumped political policy. Unfortunately, policy looks to be gaining an upper hand in the long term.

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