While the U.S. Supreme Court routinely looks at courses cases which forces a strong look into the Constitution (notably the amendments), and requires sometimes an interpretation or reinterpretation of what that 200+ year old document means, the second amendment is not one that comes up for review very often. The last time was in the 1930s.
First, a review. The second amendment is the one that protects the right of the citizens to bear arms …. depending on who you talk to. The amendment reads:
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.
This has led to the age old argument: was the intent that only those involved in a state militia (what we today would call the national guard) entitled to bear arms ….. or is it not even applied to them (in the era around the Revolution, the state militias were the army, and there relly weren’t many bases or forts that stationed these militias, so you kept your rifle at home in case the call went out.
The other interpretation is that, since we were a young nation just coming out from under the boots of an autocratic monarchy, that the citizens have the right to bear arms to defend themselves from … the government. Even Thomas Jefferson warned that the day may come when the government may become so autocratic; so little engaged in defending the rights of the citizens, that the people should be ready to overthrow the government and change it so that it serves them again. There is thus the implication that private citizens should be able to bear arms for just such a purpose.
Of course, today, there are restrictions on gun ownership: there are requirements to have them registered practically everywhere. In many places, you cannot physically carry a gun on your person all of the time. There are certain places you can’t take them (schools, court, etc). A lot of these restrictions are somewhat common sense.
The city of Washington D.C. (and others, including Chicago) have outright bans on the ownership of handguns. You cannot have one in the home. If someone breaks into your home, and you shoot them, you will likely be in trouble to some degree. Of course looking at the exceptionally low crime rate in Washington DC and Chicago, this ban obviously makes sense (for those who don’t know: Louisiana and Maryland have the worst murder rates of any state: about ten murders-per-100,000 population (give or take); Washington DC has a rate around 35 murders-per-100,000)
So, a security guard who lives in Washington sued for the right to own a hand gun. The appeals court supported him, but the Supreme Court chose to review this. The result, in a 5-4 vote (which has become a regular vote result lately), is that the government (in this case, municipal governments) do not have the right to outright ban gun ownership to everyone. There still exist restrictions that can be put in place (like the mentally ill and former convicts can be barred from owning them). It also removes the requirement that guns be stored either disassembled or with trigger guards. The idea of course was to prevent kids from accidentally shooting the gun, but it also prevents people from legitimate home defense. That’s certainly more of a grey area.
There was one aspect of this case that was really disturbing, and I really hope that I am misinterpreting this because it is such a small clip from the decision:
Justice Sephen Breyer wrote a separate opinion for the minority. The clip from his dissenting opinion is as follows:
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.
Now, if I am interpreting this (and I could be wrong, I really hope I am) Justie Breyer is saying that municipalities with high crime rates certainly have the right to ban guns, because in the people who live there don’t have the constitutional protection to bear arms like the rest of the nation.
That is disturbing. It would seem to me that the one unquestioned reason for bearing arms in the modern world is self-defense. It would seem that the higher the rate of crime, the more necessary it would be to defend yourself. In light of this, Justice Breyer’s decision does not seem to make sense.
On top of that, it almost seems to suggest that some citizens are entitled to a constitutional protection, while others are not. I have to say that I am not in favor of some citizens being protected and others not.
Having talked with folks who are not from America, they are often quite puzzled with our obsession with guns … the answer I give is that it is a cultural thing … our nation is unique in that it was a democracy being built by pioneers exploring new territory (you could say the same for the rest of the Americas, except the rest of the continent was under the control of monarchies for a large percentage of their histories). No one moving westward could survive without a gun. Like any right, it is very difficult to take away or restrict once it has been granted.
For what its worth, I support the right of individuals to own reasonable weapons for defense or hunting purposes. I also support the need for registration, background checks, and such. I support strong penalties for those who circumvent such, and mandatory education for any gun owner.
I grew up with firearms around me. My father collected guns, and had one near the bed in case he needed it. I knew where it was, and was explained in no uncertain terms that it was never to be touched, and the consequences of my actions should I decide to handle it. My uncle was a hunter in the north woods of Wisconsin, and while I never chose to join him hunting, I have been to shooting ranges, and learned how to properly handle a rifle and a pistol. There is a great deal of discipline involved, and learning to do this right is someone that anyone who is going to be living around a gun should go through.
I can only hope that with rights restored to many citizens, this will not lead to more injuries and deaths ….. and that the next time a criminal thinks about breaking in to someone’s home, they think twice (they won’t, but I can hope!)