Thursday, June 26, 2008

Supreme Court Affirms Gun Ownership as an Individual Right

"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 Supreme Court released a ruling this morning in the case of District of Columbia ET AL v. Heller. The decision apparently upholds the principle of gun ownership as an individual, as opposed to a collective, right. What that means is that the Supreme Court believes citizens can own guns regardless of membership in a government- or community-run military or paramilitary organization. It also appears to limit the government's ability to prohibit ownership of guns--including handguns--outright.

To quote from the ruling:

"The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home."
Writing for the majority, Justice Scalia said, the Constitution does not permit "the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home." Unfortunately that leaves far too much room for continued restrictions, in my opinion, especially when you consider the lessons that should have been learned by anyone watching D.C.'s descent into violence and absolute chaos in the years following the de facto total ban on usable weapons, first enacted in 1976.

The decision overturns D.C.'s 32-year-old hand gun ban, which was--not coincidentally IMHO--put in place only a few years before D.C. became consumed in a unending cycle of gun violence that virtually destroyed the city, and which continues to plague it. The problem was that, quite frankly, once guns were outlawed only outlaws had guns. Regular law-abiding citizens could no longer defend themselves, their property, and their families from the depredations of armed, usually teenage, gangsters. The complete failure of the D.C. government to protect its citizens is similar to the failure of local city governments from Philadelphia to Chicago to Los Angeles to small towns in BFE anywhere to protect a disarmed population from criminals.

I lived in D.C. in the late 80s, and hearing gun fire was common place. The murder rate was so extreme that local organizations began trying to draw attention to it by referring to young black men as endangered species. In truth, they were. And this was in large part because their elders had been disarmed and the communities left to mercy of the drug dealers, who, supported by the Reagan administration's inane War on Drugs, suddenly had a huge profit motive for violence and destruction within their communities. Kind of a perfect storm. The police, of course, are limited in what they can do and aside from sting operations or fortuitous encounters with ongoing crime, they can usually only clean up afterwards. The surge in gun violence and drug dealing, the obvious helplessness of the public, and the inability of the police to do anything other than apply tourniquets led to a complete breakdown in respect for law across the board. Other than the D.C. Metro, which remained mostly crime-free, respect for law and order across the board virtually crumbled and a general sense of anarchy reigned. Government in a Democracy is ultimately the manifestation of the public's will and energy. In D.C. in the 1980s both faltered. I firmly believe the catalyst for the collapse was the disarming of the citizens, which removed from even experienced community leaders, war veterans, retired police and others who might have led the resistance to the crack epidemic, the ability to react. The will to act soon followed.

This is why I am only partially reassured by the recent decision. Scalia's writing seems to leave open the ability of governments to ban concealed carry rights. These would have been essential in D.C. to allow local leaders to really resist the criminal gangs, who don't worry about such things. Scalia says, that 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." I have no idea what a "sensitive place" should be, but the ruling seems to conclude that our schools should remain disarmed, unprotected free-fire zones for every nutcase who can burgle a firearm and use it for public acts of mass murder. Thanks, Scalia!

A couple of Scalia's collegues show even less understanding about the true nature of the criminal mind to disregard laws. In his dissent, Justice Breyer wrote, "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." This is an asinine statement that equates ownership or desire for ownership of a usable firearm with criminal intent. Who else would have greater need of an at-the-ready, loaded handgun in their own home than residents of a crime-ridden urban area? No one would.

An fine example of this need has been demonstrated by independent firearms researcher Gary Kleck, who reported in his landmark book, Point Blank:

"...though blacks were generally less likely than whites to own guns, they were more likely than whites to own solely for protection. In particular, 9.8% of all Illinois black female respondents [to the Illinois survey cited in the book] owned a gun solely for protection, compared to only 2.4% for the white males . . . These findings are significant in light of the symbolic imagery used by gun control advocates to justify disarming defensive gun owners. [Bordua] has noted that these advocates paint a picture that stresses the "obstructionist refusal of 'rednecks' to join the twentieth century [the study was from the 1980s] but downplays "disarming frightened black women whose frontier is now . . .The common stereotype held among gun control proponents of a Daniel Boone lingering on from yesterday should perhaps give way to that of a black nurse hoping to make it to tomorrow."
Breyer's statement about "urban" gun-owners is patronizing, and essentially racist in its overtones and worldview. People are more likely to need guns in areas of high crime. But Breyer would deny me and my fellow urbanites that right based on some unspoken rule that "urban" people cannot be trusted with firearms as much as "rural" people can. It doesn't take a huge stretch to believe Breyer is talking about minorities when he mentions "urban" areas. Personally, I think the Constitution guarantees the same rights to everybody.

Today's ruling on D.C. v. Heller at least affirms the individual right to own firearms. The 5 to 4 decision could have been worse. But the struggle for sane gun policy will apparently continue.

1 comment:

Zak Johnson said...

I also think it's worth posting a link to this discussion over at the Oregon Firearms Federation.

Their headline is Don't Celebrate.