girl gun rangeThe events leading up to this case include a resident of Washington D.C. who challenged the city’s law banning handguns in the home for self-defence on the basis that the law is unconstitutional. Now the US Supreme Court has heard arguments for the first time on what the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution means, and what the framers of that constitution intended. It’s a hugely important case.

Jonathan Rauch writes:

“Nine years ago, one of the first columns I wrote for National Journal told the story of Tom G. Palmer. One night some years ago in San Jose, he found himself confronting a gang of toughs, as many as 20 of them, intent on gay-bashing him. Taunted as a ‘faggot,’ threatened with death, Palmer (and a friend) ran for their lives, only to find the gang in hot pursuit. So Palmer stopped, reached into his backpack, and produced a gun. The gang backed off.”

Apart from confirming my decision to have a concealed weapons permit and a Glock 27 in my laptop case – I’m not gay but may be beaten up for being an annoying little shit on the radio – it’s clear to me that this is exactly the kind of situation the 2nd Amendment exists to protect. What else could the framers of the US Constitution have had in their minds but a right to defend oneself from this kind, or another kind, of aggression, when they wrote about “the right of the people to keep and bear arms”?

At the same time, Mark Tushnet in the Guardian has something right when he suggests:

“What you think the second amendment means tells us what kind of person you think you are, and what kind of country you think the United States is. If you are basically an individualist, you’re likely to think that people should look out for themselves – and that one way of doing so is by owning guns. You’re likely to think as well that people who favour gun control are almost spineless cowards unwilling to defend themselves when facing serious threats. If you’re more egalitarian, you’re likely to think that we all have a duty to look out for each other’s welfare and safety – and that one way of doing so is by limiting gun ownership. You’re likely to think as well that people who favour gun rights are too macho and self-regarding.”

The reason I say he has “something” right, but not everything, is that what he fails to acknowledge is the legitimacy of the individualist argument against what he calls the “egalitarian” argument (a misnomer); in a case such as the one described above by Rauch an individual right to own and carry a firearm constitutes the difference between life and death. Moreover, I know of no person owning firearms who believes that people who aren’t into the idea of doing so themselves are “spineless cowards”, to make this suggestion is disingenuous.

Well, I’m happy to tell you that the case is doing well. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported:

“The Second Amendment right to ‘keep and bear arms’ finally had its day in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, and the long-held view that it protects the rights of gun owners appeared poised to win a historic victory. Five justices, a bare majority, signaled they believe the amendment gives individuals a right to have a gun for self-defense. It is not limited to arms for ‘a well-regulated militia’ for the common defense, they said. By adopting that view, the justices probably will strike down the nation’s strictest gun-control law, a ban on handguns in the District of Columbia.”

This is great news, because it will trigger an avalanche of challenges to other laws around the country which also restrict firearms ownership in lesser ways.

Nevertheless I think what this case may come down to is defending the 2nd Amendment as an individual right while not necessarily wishing it to mean that everyone must be allowed to own grenade launchers and dynamite. Ultimately it will probably hinge on having a right to reasonable protection: if potential aggressors were wielding only kitchen knives then perhaps only kitchen knives would be the protected means of self-defense in law; since they’re wielding semiautomatic firearms it seems logical to uphold the right of individuals to own them, as I do, also.

Of course that would mean finding the city of Washington D.C. in fault and necessitating the repealing of their law banning handguns and their law demanding that they be kept locked away (which effectively renders them useless in the case of an emergency).

Freedom-crushing laws being struck down by the US Supreme Court? Can’t wait to see those headlines, which should come sometime in June.

In the meantime, think about one of my other favourite issues which is also going to the Supreme Court very soon: a challenge to the FCC’s right to censor broadcast media. Love it.