Thursday, March 04, 2010


Reversing my opinion on restrictive gun laws

The Supreme Court aims to decide whether the 2nd Amendment "right to bear arms" restricts the law-making abilities of state and local governments.  Two years ago the "conservative" bloc of the Court found new meaning in the Constitution, asserting that the Amendment implied an individual right to bear arms that is not subject to federal prohibition. It was possible to reach this decision because the case was brought against the District of Columbia, a federal enclave.

The majority went so far as to quote from an 1895 decision—

United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U. S. 542, in the course of vacating the convictions of members of a white mob for depriving blacks of their right to keep and bear arms, held that the Second Amendment does not by its own force apply to anyone other than the Federal Government. The opinion explained that the right "is not a right granted by the Constitution [or] in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The second amendment ... means no more than that it shall not be infringed by Congress." 92 U. S., at 553. States, we said, were free to restrict or protect the right under their police powers.

Now, in a case brought against the city of Chicago, the Court will decide the impact of the Second Amendment upon non-federal laws that restrict firearms.  One might reasonably think, reading the excerpt above and the majority's comment upon it ("States, we said, were free to restrict or protect the right under their police powers"), that the matter had been settled in 1895. But no.  The Court apparently intends to restrict the ability of local governments to control firearms as well.

Of course when the Court arrived at its conclusions two years ago, it specifically carved out certain exceptions to the limits on federal law—

Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

Now why, we must ask, are government buildings—such as federal courthouses—exempt from the Amendment? Surely if the Amendment refuses the right of the federal government to pass restrictions on "bearing arms," that constraint should hold most forcibly in a federal courtroom. 

What's so damned "sensitive" about a federal courtroom anyway?  In my view, my local supermarket is far more sensitive than a federal courthouse, because I go there often and have the increasingly forlorn hope of not being caught in the crossfire between the armed clerk at the checkout counter and the armed robber or the armed irate customer. On the other hand I have seldom set foot in a federal courthouse, so I don't much care what they do there. Might we suspect that the Court wants to foist upon the citizenry a situation that it doesn't want to endure itself?

So I am reversing my position on laws restricting guns and demand that citizens be allowed to carry guns on federal property, and I urge the surging right-wing militias to converge upon their nearest federal courthouse armed to the teeth. How else are we to protect our rights?

Related post
I have a feeling we're not in Disney World anymore: Florida goes "Wild West" (4/02/05)

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