}

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Editing out guns

In a brilliant editorial calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, the Chicago Tribune suggests that all this trouble with guns in America, and the deeply wrong Supreme Court ruling, could have been avoided if only the authors of the US Constitution had editors:

If the founders had limited themselves to the final 14 words, the amendment would have been an unambiguous declaration of the right to possess firearms. But they didn’t and it isn’t. The amendment was intended to protect the authority of the states to organize militias. The inartful wording has left the amendment open to public debate for more than 200 years. But in its last major decision on gun rights, in 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously found that that was the correct interpretation.

Without crystal-clear wording, the conservative majority on the Court scratched around desperately trying to carve out a right where none existed. They failed. As the Tribune said,

As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in a compelling dissent, the five justices in the majority found no new evidence that the 2nd Amendment was intended to limit the power of government to regulate the use of firearms. They found no new evidence to overturn decades of court precedent.

Instead, the Court ended up making law—this is called “judicial activism”. This ruling shows how willing—eager, even—the right wing is to embrace “judicial activism” when it’s to their benefit. The far right is either lying or deluded if they deny this. These right wingers get upset about “judicial activism” only when a court upholds concepts of fairness and justice that they oppose. But if judges create new law to benefit their conservative ideology, that’s a great thing for them—and bad for everyone else.

The right wing has been successful in framing this whole issue in terms of law-abiding citizens being able to defend themselves, completely ignoring that the average American will never see “street crime”, much less need a gun for defence. Indeed, guns in homes are far more likely to shoot a friend, family member or child. What about the right of elected officials to protect their citizens from the harm of handguns? That no longer exists; the Supreme Court shot and killed fundamental democracy.

So, I agree with the Tribune: Maybe we do need to repeal the Second Amendment. Like them, I don’t see it happening, but, thanks to the Supreme Court, it’s now the only debate about guns American citizens are allowed to have.


The full text of the Second Amendment: "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."

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