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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Supremes uphold right to own guns

Silent on central questions of gun control for two centuries, the Supreme Court found its voice Thursday in a decision affirming the right to have guns for self-defense in the home and addressing a constitutional riddle almost as old as the republic over what it means to say the people may keep and bear arms.

The court's 5-4 ruling struck down the District of Columbia's ban on handguns and imperiled similar prohibitions in other cities, Chicago and San Francisco among them. Federal gun restrictions, however, were expected to remain largely intact.


Silent on central questions of gun control for two centuries, the Supreme Court found its voice Thursday in a decision affirming the right to have guns for self-defense in the home and addressing a constitutional riddle almost as old as the republic over what it means to say the people may keep and bear arms.

The court’s 5-4 ruling struck down the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns and imperiled similar prohibitions in other cities, Chicago and San Francisco among them. Federal gun restrictions, however, were expected to remain largely intact.

The court’s historic awakening on the meaning of the Second Amendment brought a curiously mixed response, muted in some unexpected places.

The reaction broke less along party lines than along the divide between cities wracked with gun violence and rural areas where gun ownership is embedded in daily life. Democrats have all but abandoned their long push for stricter gun laws at the national level after deciding it’s a losing issue for them. Republicans welcomed what they called a powerful precedent.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, straddling both sides of the issue, said merely that the court did not find an unfettered right to bear arms and that the ruling "will provide much-needed guidance to local jurisdictions across the country." But another Chicagoan, Democratic Mayor Richard Daley, called the ruling "very frightening" and predicted more violence and higher taxes to pay for extra police if his city’s gun restrictions are lost.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain welcomed the ruling as "a landmark victory for Second Amendment freedom."

The court had not conclusively interpreted the Second Amendment since its ratification in 1791. 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."

The basic issue for the justices was whether the amendment protects an individual’s right to own guns no matter what, or whether that right is somehow tied to service in a state militia, a once-vital, now-archaic grouping of citizens. That’s been the heart of the gun control debate for decades.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said an individual right to bear arms exists and is supported by "the historical narrative" both before and after the Second Amendment was adopted.

President Bush said: "I applaud the Supreme Court’s historic decision today confirming what has always been clear in the Constitution: the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear firearms."

The full implications of the decision, however, are not sorted out. Still to be seen, for example, is the extent to which the right to have a gun for protection in the home may extend outside the home.

Scalia said the Constitution does not permit "the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home." The court also struck down D.C. requirements that firearms be equipped with trigger locks or kept disassembled, but left intact the licensing of guns. The district allows shotguns and rifles to be kept in homes if they are registered, kept unloaded and taken apart or equipped with trigger locks.

Scalia noted that 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."

But he said nothing in the ruling should "cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings."

In a concluding paragraph to the 64-page opinion, Scalia said the justices in the majority "are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country" and believe the Constitution "leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns."

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty responded with a plan to require residents to register their handguns. "More handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence," Fenty said.

In a dissent he summarized from the bench, 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."

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a separate dissent in which he 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."

Joining Scalia were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. The other dissenters were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter.

Gun rights advocates praised the decision. "I consider this the opening salvo in a step-by-step process of providing relief for law-abiding Americans everywhere that have been deprived of this freedom," said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association.

The NRA will file lawsuits in San Francisco, Chicago and several Chicago suburbs challenging handgun restrictions there based on Thursday’s outcome.

Some Democrats also welcomed the ruling.

"This opinion should usher in a new era in which the constitutionality of government regulations of firearms are reviewed against the backdrop of this important right," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

The capital’s gun law was among the nation’s strictest.

Dick Anthony Heller, 66, an armed security guard, sued the district after it rejected his application to keep a handgun at his Capitol Hill home a short distance from the Supreme Court.

"I’m thrilled I am now able to defend myself and my household in my home," Heller said shortly after the opinion was announced.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in Heller’s favor and struck down the district’s handgun ban, saying the Constitution guarantees Americans the right to own guns and a total prohibition on handguns is not compatible with that right.

The issue caused a split within the Bush administration. Vice President Dick Cheney supported the appeals court ruling, but others in the administration feared it could lead to the undoing of other gun regulations, including a federal law restricting sales of machine guns. Other laws keep felons from buying guns and provide for an instant background check.

The last Supreme Court ruling on the matter came in 1939 in U.S. v. Miller, which involved a sawed-off shotgun. Constitutional scholars agree it did not squarely answer the question of individual versus collective rights.

The case is District of Columbia v. Heller, 07-290.

33 thoughts on “Supremes uphold right to own guns”

  1. Oi, Veh, Barak!

    You really think our ONLY protection against tyranny is that sham called “the vote?”

    Barak, you paid too much attention when Miss Pringle misled the class in 8th grade civics.

    “The Vote” changes nothing. It is a complete sham. Those in power give us a “choice” between two big-government alternatives: Republicrats and Demopublicans.

    I’m sure the original American revolutionaries were told, many times, that they stood not a chance against the British armed forces. And, truth be told, the American Continental army got its ass kicked every time it met the Brits on a standard field of battle.

    How, then, did they manage to win? By fighting an “irregular,” asymmetrical, guerrilla-style war. Actually, the Continental Army never figured this out; the ones who really beat the Brits were guys like you and me. That is, the militia. They used what at the time were considered cowardly tactics: they picked off British regulars from positions of concealment, then fled. And, they took special care to take out the officers first!

    No, you can’t beat a well-trained army in a “fair fight.” The point of a well-armed citizenry is to fight tyranny in an “unfair,” asymmetrical manner, just as the original American militia did.

  2. To all you gun owners: You who have such comfort in owning a pistol, rifle, shotgun or even a machine gun, I have just a couple of questions:

    What protections have your guns offered you as your rights were violated and your freedoms have been legislated out of existence by such things as “The Patriots Act”?

    If members of our United States Armed Forces, Marines, Army, Special Forces or whatever, came to your home and demanded that you surrender your weapons, do you really believe that you could fight them off and win?

    Since I truly believe that NRA stands for “No Rational Activity”, let me be a bit more simple in the hope that you gun owners will understand:

    Your guns can NOT protect you from a government intent on taking away your rights and privacy. Your only, repeat ONLY, protection is something we all still have and can all still use: A VOTE. If you vote, if you vote for your rights and for your privacy, then you can throw these monsters out of the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches and restore some dignity and sanity to our great country. The vote is free. No license required, just registration. So take the free route, the sane route, the only route, and on November 4, VOTE!

    Help us American Public, you are our only hope.

  3. The wording of the amendment is a bit awkward, although “shall not be infringed” is definitely clear as a bell. But, because it doesn’t say “people in the militia”, I’m led to believe that it means more that ALONG with the militia, the people will retain the right to keep and bear arms. After all, there were very many hunters at that time, as well as people fighting the Natives (right or wrong, they were doing it), pirates were actually in existence, so the people also had the right to keep weapons for hunting and protection. I believe that this is IN ADDITION to the militia which is “necessary to the security of a free state”, which I take to mean the protection of our nation as a political entity. I don’t think the fact that we no longer regularly hunt for our food is a reason to forbid guns. And, DC’s laws have proven that denying gun ownership has NOT reduced crime – if anything, crime increased because there was NOTHING to stop it!

    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” -Mark Twain

  4. Knowing nothing about tactics means nothing. Sure we lose the first round. Tactics are easily learned under pressure, especially where life and death are the teachers.

    Look at the last few wars of any significance we have engaged in. We swooped down, took control, thumped our chests. Then the attrition set in. IED’s can be very useful in the long run. So can modern rifles and pistols, even when not automatic. All we really need to do is be like water. Let them through and hit them from behind. And do this over and over and over again for a hundred or a thousand years, if that is what it takes.

    Many will die on both sides, but it will be far more costly to them, especially if we, the tax payers are doing the fighting (do you really believe we’ll pay the taxes if we’re the declared enemy?).


  5. Pablo,

    With all due respect, there are countless human beings who are born wired wrong. They are biologically wired with the disregard for human life and property. They are sociopaths.

    We all have a touch of larceny and violence in our mental makeup, but there is an underlying conscience that brings us back to right and wrong (for many, but not all).

    There are trigger mechanisms in all of us that engage us to go into survival modes and do what we have to do, but also there are trigger mechanism that are set off by events or circumstance that may…just may cause us to act out in behaviors we never knew possible. That includes perpetrating an act of violence against another being.

    If religion is the answer…then the communication line between mortal beings and a omnipotent being or beings is broken.

    As far as Government is concerned, I’m afraid the need for power overrides any religious teachings.

    We are powerless over people, places, and things when it gets right down to it.

    Guns, knives, hammers, clubs…are they really any different? It takes a human with the mental capacity to commit acts of violence using guns, knives, hammers, and clubs (or even hands, feet) as viable weapon used to kill or perpetrate crimes.

    The precipitating factors that drives a person to commit a violent act are as many as there are human beings.

  6. We still live on the edge of a savage society even though we expressively claim that we live in a polite civil society. I’m glad we have the right to keep and bare arms. This ruling proves there is still some sanity left in this Country.

    If you don’t like guns then don’t own them. And, don’t dump your politics on me.

    And, if you want to take my guns even with a 5/4 decision come get them if you are man or woman enough to get them!

  7. FEAR
    is what drives the violence. Case in point: Iraq. The opposite, of course, is love. This country is ruled by fear and has a real lack of love, and that is the sad truth of the matter. If the “christian” nation would actually listen to Christ’s message…

    Just my humble opinion.

  8. Rob,

    The reason for violence isn’t embedded in the instruments used by one to inflict on another.

    Violence can surely be perpetrated with the use of a gun. However, if individuals didn’t perepetrate violence with a gun then it will be with a knife, a club, a yard rake, a hammer…

    The reason for violence is embedded in the minds of humans who are compelled to act out against another…regardless of how they choose to impose their aggression and violence.

    I don’t think that you own a gun, but if you did, then sell it or surrender if you wish, but criminal will make their own. Zipp guns have been around a long time. Other forms of firearms are made by gangs and death merchants. You can’t stop them from gaining weapons to use on you are your family…or to take your property.

    But criminals are certainly not at the top of my list for owning a gun.

    Violence is ingrained in the human condition (the miswired minds of individuals). If we can blame anything for violence…it would be called primial immaturity, or if you wish, the lack of being evolved.

    Yep, humans haven’t reached the pinnacle of our evolution.

  9. This issue isn’t difficult for me itself, but the overall issue of being not properly represented by the platform of any party (in a very similar way to you) is. Well put.

  10. This whole issue
    is difficult for me. I consider myself a liberal, might even go so far as to say I am socialist. I believe in a socialist system where those who work harder can get ahead, but everybody has access to basic food, shelter, health care and education (College should be free for all, just divert some of our violence $).

    Anyway, it seems all that share my basic values are also for excessive gun control, which I believe would be very detrimental to freedom and prevention of an out-of-control government. The democratic party, although way too right for me (I’m basing this observation on their actions, not their words), is more in line with my beliefs, but are for too much gun control. On the other hand, if I want to support gun rights I would have to vote republican, and they are for everything evil I abhor. Then there is the Libertarian party which supports gun rights, but deregulation of many things that really should be regulated in my opinion, such as how we treat the environment, or how we exploit our fellow citizens.

    I guess this demonstrates we need more than two, or even three parties. In the meantime, I guess I am stuck with the lying democrats, as what they say (not so much what they do) is in line with most of my beliefs, except gun control. Yes both parties represent the corporations, but at least with the democrats abortion remains legal, actions are taken to decrease abortions (unlike the hypocrite repugs), some environmental protections occur, and some basic needs are provided for the less fortunate. But they don’t see that people kill people, not guns.

  11. My household is armed for the very reasons you point out Rob.

    Untrained disasters seeking to impose their will on myself or family, will be met with all the lawful force I can muster, because I can.

    It’s as much my choice ( and right ) whether or not to die the cowards 1000 deaths as it was our founders when they made their intent known they were to be free men representing a free society.

    The answer to your lack of training point is simple.

    Revive the draft, and enforce the laws already on the books.

    Olberman made an ass out of himself last night by stating that our right of self defense ( 2nd Ammendment ) is as antiquated as a musket or Chinese hand cannon.

    Call a cop or better yet the government the next time someone breaks in on you Kieth, Katrina ring any bells?

    Not often is he such an obvious dipshit. Disappointing to say the least.

  12. So close…

    and yet missed regardless. One poster noticed the phrase, “for the security of a free State.” Yea, right. You and your neighbors, who shoot at best annually in some hunting quest, are going to protect your freedom against a military. That’s laughable, even if you remove the armored aspects of military and SWAT units. You and your neighbors know squat about tactics, so you’d be annoying flies against a well fly swattered opponent.

    AND, what precedes that phrase in my mind is the issue. “A well regulated militia….” You want a gun? You have to spend a two year stint in your states National Guard unit. Then you spend a year in the Peace Corp., and after that if you want your issued arms, a long rifle of the standard version and your side arm, you can have it. And to boot, any education you want for free after that third year.

    Providing of course, you keep up your shooting ability. You let that slide, you lose the gun. After all it isn’t guns that kill just like it isn’t pens that misspell. People do both, and an untrained person with a weapon is a disaster waiting to happen.

    The real issue in my mind isn’t gun or not. It’s the level of violence we display in this country, and it is being disguised in this Second Amendment garb. Let’s get a grip on the reason we are so violent, and the gun issue will settle itself.

  13. These are fabulous comments. It seems as if America is on the cutting edge of being individuals in a free country or subjects under the great Authoritarians. We only have to read our history books to see the difference between the two.

    We have seen nations who became Empires conquered either by other nations or by the uprising of the the citizens. We have seen throughly corrupt governments destroy whatever laws they are elected to protect.

    For some reason our RNC and DNC have overlooked their chosen candidates to serve and protect our Constitution. Is there any chance for an Independent candidate who would run solely on protecting America through the Bill of Rights? I so not see any leadership coming from the Greens or the LP.

    If we can find a candidate how do we spread the word? We are battling the umbrella of Socialism and the battle of the Christians.

    When do we reach the point of no return between the two? Maybe had we stayed with Doug and his “Campaign for Our America” we might have organized something.

  14. Voted to uphold the 2nd Amendment

    SCALIA – Reagan Admin
    ROBERTS – GW Bush Admin
    KENNEDY – Reagan Admin
    THOMAS – GHW Bush Admin
    ALITO – GW Bush Admin

    Voted against the 2nd Amendment

    STEVENS – Ford Admin
    SOUTER – GHW Bush Admin
    GINSBURG – Bill Clinton Admin
    BREYER – Bill Clinton Admin

    Like Separation of Church and State, some people just can’t get it. There are those who are just constitutionally incapable of grasping the consequences of losing the 2nd Amendment. We just can’t allowing the government to usurp the our fundamental rights, which by in large, aren’t really all that complicated.

    The reason we have a Bill of Rights is to remove political influence from overrriding their intent. Yes, there can be individual circumstance that might be controversial and requires the courts interpertation, but come on folks, there are obvious issues that clearly affect the entire nation…that aren’t individual problems. Row vs. Wade is an example of that. That wasn’t an individual problem, it was one that affected every citizen in our county.

    It surprises me daily at the number of people who are oh so willing to sacrafice freedom for so-called security.

    Wake up America, there won’t be a second coming of the Constitution if it’s destroyed or altered to the benefit of the government.

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