When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

26 June 2008

The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed

In a landmark civil rights decision, the Supreme Court ruled today that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution does, in fact, create an individual right of firearms ownership for American citizens, striking down the District of Columbia's strict gun control laws:
[The Court] said that the government may impose some restrictions on gun ownership, but that the District's strictest-in-the-nation ban went too far under any interpretation.

Scalia wrote that the Constitution leaves the District a number of options for combating the problem of handgun violence, "including some measures regulating handguns."

"But the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table," he continued. "These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home."

The court also held unconstitutional the requirement that shotguns and rifles be kept disassembled or unloaded or outfitted with a trigger lock. The court called it a "prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense."

Supreme Court Strikes Down D.C. Gun Ban (Washington Post, 26 June 2008)

This is the first time in U.S. history that the Supremes have deigned to comprehensively interpret the Second Amendment, and the decision, which establishes that the Second Amendment protects individual rights (just like the other nine amendments comprising the Bill of Rights) is historic and highly significant.

Related: Full text of the Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia et al v. Heller (PDF)

Excerpt from decision syllabus:

1. 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.Pp. 2–53.

(a) The Amendment’s prefatory clause announces a purpose, but does not limit or expand the scope of the second part, the operative clause. The operative clause’s text and history demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms. Pp. 2–22.

(b) The prefatory clause comports with the Court’s interpretation of the operative clause. The “militia” comprised all males physically capable of acting in concert for the common defense. The Antifederalists feared that the Federal Government would disarm the people in order to disable this citizens’ militia, enabling a politicized standing army or a select militia to rule. The response was to deny Congress power to abridge the ancient right of individuals to keep and bear arms, so that the ideal of a citizens’ militia would be preserved. Pp. 22–28.

(c) The Court’s interpretation is confirmed by analogous arms-bearing rights in state constitutions that preceded and immediately followed the Second Amendment. Pp. 28–30.

(d) The Second Amendment’s drafting history, while of dubious interpretive worth, reveals three state Second Amendment proposals that unequivocally referred to an individual right to bear arms.

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