Finally, the Supreme Court has halted the erosion of the right to keep and bear arms and insisted that the government recognize and accord a minimal amount of respect to this civil right.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, used grammatical, legal, and historical approaches to determine the meaning of the statement “A well-regulated Milita, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
As a result, DC’s laws that effectively ban all handguns and require any guns in one’s house to be rendered inoperable have been struck down.
This is a historic moment for the protection of our rights. For decades, a clearly articulated privilege prominently featured in the Bill of Rights has been undercut by various authorities. Finally, the Supreme Court has halted the erosion of the right to keep and bear arms and insisted that the government recognize and accord a minimal amount of respect to this civil right.
Those who cherish rights such as privacy that so famously emanate from a Constitutional penumbra should be thankful. If the Court had instead effectively abrogated an expressly articulated right, where would the less explicit rights stand? Those who were awake in their high school history classes or keep up with current political events should be well aware that is in our best interest to interpret individual rights broadly and limit the power of the state to circumscribe them.
At one time the right to free speech did not include allegedly obscene materials. Laws were promulgated that outlawed pornography, but the government also attacked those who were trying to disseminate the most rudimentary principles of contraception and women’s health.
The right to vote has been denied to a variety of citizens for any number of reasons over the course of our history, and the fight continues even today to institute same-day registration, eliminate intentional and unintentional disenfranchisement, and restore voting privileges to reformed felons.
If the irresponsible exercise of a Constitutionally protected right creates situations that society deems unacceptable, they must seek to find a remedy that does not foreclose that right. The abuse of religion to legitimize violence or abuse cannot lead us to outlaw particular sects. We must instead punish the violence and abuse.
If we object to our children being exposed to sexually explicit themes, we cannot criminalize racy movies or magazines and thus muzzle the creators of these media. Instead we institute protections such as the movie ratings system and require stores to keep their merchandise from being visible to passers-by.
Finally, the right to keep and bear arms has been accorded the same protections. Despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth heard in some corners, our ability to confront violent crime perpetrated with firearms has not been destroyed. If we have a problem with criminals using weapons, we must punish the criminally violent acts and keep only the criminals from obtaining weapons, through the use of mechanisms such as background checks.
The Supreme Court has reminded us countless times that any restrictions of a civil right must be narrowly tailored to achieve the desired purpose. Categorically banning entire classes of weapons and criminalizing the right to self-defense obviously abridges the right of the people at large and cannot be tolerated.
Exactly where the boundary between infringement of a right and reasonable precautions lies has not been determined on this issue. The editors at The Patriot Ledger complained that the decision in D.C. vs. Heller would result in a flurry of litigation and leave states unsure as to the constitutionality of their gun control measures. While this will be a long process and the line in the sand will indeed remain blurry for some time to come, would anyone truly advocate another approach?
The Supreme Court properly ruled on the narrow question in front of it and declared two provisions of DC’s gun control laws to be unconstitutional. It would be an extreme case of legislating from the bench and a sign of a breakdown in our federal systems if the Court had decided to take up consideration of the endless array of state and federal regulations.
If legislators are left in doubt about the constitutionality of their provisions, perhaps that should lead them to sobering moment of reflection instead of cries that their work is made harder because they are in violation of the Constitution of the United States.
Nicole Mammarella is a graduate student in genetics at Harvard Medical School and is an active member of several gun rights groups. She lives in Quincy.