Friday, June 27, 2008

Court shoots Constitution

There are times when we get to see events that are historic, some good, some not. The US Supreme Court ruling on guns is certainly historic, but it’s also the worst Court ruling of my lifetime.

To be sure, I’ve never been a fan of guns. I’ve also never believed that the US Constitution’s Second Amendment gives people the right to own handguns. Despite the US Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision that it does, I still don’t believe that.

At the heart of the issue is the wording of the 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." Like many people, I believe that the “militia” part is critical, that the authors of the Constitution intended for guns to be kept as part of an organised and regulated defence force. If so, then the elected government has the right and power to ban handguns (which, let’s get real here, were not on the authors’ minds when they drafted the Constitution).

Writing for the majority, Antonin Scalia disagreed, as he would. I don’t know if there’s a single issue on which I agree with him; I doubt it. But it was supreme irony that the champion of turning to the authors of the Constitution to determine “original intent” chose to frame the Court’s opinion in term of what’s now popular (handguns), and not on the state’s compelling interest in promoting both safety and the general welfare.

In was predictable, too, that Clarence Thomas, the intellectual lightweight of the court, and Bush-Cheney appointees John Roberts and Samuel Alito, the most fiercely ideological members of the Court, would back this decision. It’s disappointing that Anthony Kennedy sided with them, but he is often a swing vote.

Those who think this ruling decides the meaning of the Second Amendment once and for all are delusional. It’s entirely possible that a future Court will reverse this decision. After all, the Supreme Court once decreed that African Americans were not human, but mere property.

We know for certain that state and federal courts will be tied up for decades with challenges to each and every gun regulation, no matter how reasonable. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent (not that this worries America’s NRA and it’s very deep pockets). The Supreme Court will no doubt be asked many times to rule on some of those challenges, so this ruling will evolve over the next generation, at least.

We know something else, too: More than 30,000 Americans die from gun violence every year. With easier access to guns, this death toll can only soar.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley asked, “Why don't we do away with the court system and go back to the Old West, you have a gun and I have a gun, and we'll settle it in the streets…" Good question. Quickly after the ruling, Illinois gun groups filed a legal challenge to Chicago’s quarter-century-old ban on handguns. City lawyers express confidence because the Court’s ruling doesn’t necessarily apply to individual states and cities. We’ll see.

There’s one more thing that’s certain: This ruling greatly reinforces the world’s view of the US as a gun-mad, trigger-happy nation of cowboys. And really, can anyone blame them for holding that view? I can think of 30,000 reasons why they should.

1 comment:

d said...

Yet another reason why we moved - we lived in a suburb between Baltimore and DC. Two cities with a very high gun-murder rate.

I'm not surpised by the ruling, but still disappointed. I'm hoping for a better America in the next year...