Court made good rulingPosted Wednesday, July 16, 2008, at 9:45 AM
The people I enjoy being around range politically from very liberal to very conservative.
Since I usually believe that the truth usually falls somewhere in the middle between the two extremes, and since I love playing devil's advocate, I often wind up debating one side of an issue with friends on one extreme, and the other side of the issue with friends of the other extreme. I find the debates useful since they help me see opposite sides of arguments and the merits that each position has, since usually both sides have at least some valid points that have to be conceded and considered. In the end, I have to eventually decide which of those valid points I believe carries more weight, and then I take my own stand, usually somewhere in the middle.
Which brings me to my friend Mike Bradbury, whom many of you know as a regular letter writer on our opinion pages here. Now Mike is just a "little bit" conservative. He's been known to accuse Rush Limbaugh of being liberal. To say that Mike's opinions represent the political right probably isn't going far enough.
I haven't seen Mike since the U.S. Supreme Court made its ruling in the Heller case, but I think it is reasonable to assume that he was thrilled with the majority position. Mike's position on gun control makes the NRA look wishy washy.
This was an extremely important ruling. The Supreme Court overturned a total ban enacted by the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) on the possession of firearms.
It was the first time in a very, very long time -- over 60 years -- that the Supreme Court has directly ruled on an interpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, the right to bear arms. Most of the rulings the court has made over the last six decades have managed to sideslip the issue directly, ruling on secondary matters of various gun control laws without making a definitive statement on what it believes the Second Amendment actually means.
And it is an amendment open to wide interpretation. "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."
It's the one section of the Bill of Rights for which there are no records of the debate by the founding fathers. As a result, we're not exactly sure what they meant. There was no question that at the time, the framers of the Constitution either disliked or feared a standing army. And because the country was facing a severe economic crisis at the time (the government was more than broke), Congress had been relying on local militias to provide defense along the frontiers from attacks by Indians, which was the gravest "external" threat the country faced at that time.
So some people have focused on the first half of the rather simple statement, " A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..." and contended that the Amendment is meant to cover only organized military/police forces.
Others, like Mike, have focused on the second half of the amendment, "...the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," contending this is a blanket right provided to all individuals, not the state.
As usual, I fall somewhere in between those positions.
I like guns. I own a couple. I like to hunt and target shoot. I think people ought to have a right to possess at least some types of firearms. I would be considerably upset if someone tried to take my firearms away from me.
Unlike Mike, however, I'm willing to see some "reasonable" limits imposed on firearms possession. I think there are acceptable degrees of firearms possession and a line needs to be drawn somewhere. I don't, for example, think people have any need for automatic weapons, including machine guns. Mike doesn't see a problem with that, or other weapons, up to and including tanks, but then I think Mike would probably advocate the right for individuals to possess nuclear weapons if they could get their hands on them.
And I reject completely the argument that they're needed for possible "defense" against our own government. Nobody with a .30-06 is going to ever be able to stand up to the nation's standing military forces.
And as far as self defense against criminals goes, there are a few cases where it has worked, but at least as many cases where it has backfired.
I don't have a problem with waiting periods and background checks (although I wish those checks would be a little more thorough, so that at least people known to be crazy or dangerous criminals and known gang members couldn't get them so easily). And I wouldn't have a problem requiring every gun sold to have a ballistic print recorded with the sale.
This nation clearly has a problem with firearms, especially handguns. There are some cities where it its statistically more dangerous to live there than it is being deployed in the Iraq war zone. Our nation's capital happens to be one of those cities. We're one of the world's leaders in homicides and most of them are due to handguns. It's one of the leading causes of death among young people, and most homicides are "within the family," relations blasting away at each other.
So the lawmakers in D.C. decided that they'd had enough. There were just too many people getting killed on their streets by handguns. So they adopted the "nuclear option" and approved a total ban.
Yet, while firearms may be a significant component of the problem, there is an equally certain validity to the argument that it takes a person pulling the trigger to create a homicide. The issues of our murder rate go well beyond mere gun possession and must be explored within the deeper issues of our social psyche as well.
I may believe, unlike Mike, that limits can be imposed on firearms possession, but I believe the Supreme Court ruled correctly in the Heller case. The D.C. lawmakers had gone too far.
It was a close ruling, however, and you can probably thank Ronald Reagan for that. He managed to tip the court toward a more conservative bent with his appointments, and it was the court's conservatives that decided the D.C. law had been excessive.
It also clearly stated that the court believed individuals, not merely organized protection agencies of the government, had the right to possess firearms. It was the first time the court had ever been so clear on that issue, and clarity in the law has always been a good thing.
The ruling did not eliminate the possibility that some limits couldn't be imposed, but it drew a line against any total ban.
That's a victory for gun owners. It's also a victory for the Constitution and individual rights. It said that responsible behavior by a majority of Americans shouldn't be constricted simply because of the irresponsible behavior of a few, no matter how dangerous that irresponsible behavior is.
So while Mike and I will agree to disagree on specifics, and where the line for the limits of gun possession should be drawn, like Mike, I applaud the wisdom of the court.
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