Supreme Court Goes to Heller!
Answering a 127-year old constitutional question, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to have a gun, at least in one’s home. The Court, splitting 5-4, struck down a District of Columbia ban on handgun possession. Although times have changed since 1791, Justice Antonin Scalia said for the majority, “it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”
Examining the words of the Amendment, the Court concluded “we find they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weaons in case of confrontation” — in other words, for self-defense. “The inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right,” it added.
The individual right interpretation, the Court said, ”is strongly confirmed by the historical background of the Second Amendment,” going back to 17th Century England, as well as by gun rights laws in the states before and immediately after the Amendment was put into the U.S. Constitution.
What Congress did in drafting the Amendment, the Court said, was “to codify a pre-existing right, rather than to fashion a new one.”
Justice Scalia’s opinion stressed that the Court was not casting doubt on long-standing bans on carrying a concealed gun or on gun possession by felons or the mentally retarded, on laws barring guns from schools or government buildings, and laws putting conditions on gun sales.
The Court took no position on whether the Second Amendment right restricts only federal government powers, or also curbs the power of states to regulate guns. In a footnote, Scalia said that the issue of “incorporating” the Second into the Fourteenth Amendment, thus applying it to the states, was “a question not presented by this case.” But the footnote said decisions in 1886 and 1894 had reaffirmed that the Amendment “applies only to the Federal Government.” Whether the Court will reopen that issue thus will depend upon future cases.
In District of Columbia v. Heller (07-290), the Court nullified two provisions of the city of Washington’s strict 1976 gun control law: a flat ban on possessing a gun in
one’s home, and a requirement that any gun — except one kept at a business — must be unloaded and disassembled or have a trigger lock in place. The Court said it was not passing on a part of the law requiring that guns be licensed. It said that issuing a license to a handgun owner, so the weapon can be used at home, would be a sufficient remedy for the Second Amendment violation of denying any access to a handgun.
Justice Scalia’s recitation from the bench of the majority’s reasoning continued for 16
minutes. Justice John Paul Stevens followed, for seven minutes, summarizing the reasons for two dissenting opinions — his and one written by Justice Stephen G. Breyer.
The decision was the final one of the Term and, after issuing it, the Court recessed for the summer, to return on Monday, Oct. 6. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., said that concluding orders on pending cases will be released by the Court Clerk at 10 a.m. Friday.
Hooray, at least in part. In some ways, it’s a pity that they did not incorporate the amendment to the states. Heller didn’t really have anything to do with incorporation, however, since it doesn’t even involve one of the states, let alone a state’s right to legislate firearms possession. And, since I live in one of the Free States, it doesn’t make too much personal difference to me. I have just never understood how you can incorporate some of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights without incorporating all of them.
The only thing that stuns me is that the decision was 5-4. The Bill of Rights is not the least bit ambiguous about the matter.
I’m not at all stunned that it was the last opinion of the term. Knowing the flak they will get from the tolerant-and-progressive folks, they probably wanted to be in their cars on the way out of town before the poo hits the fan blades.
I may still pick up a few AR-15’s over the next year or so. The current presidential nominees and the existing congress don’t fill me with confidence regarding attempts to reimpose the “assault weapons” ban.