Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Supreme Court to Hear Gun Case

The Supreme Court has granted cert to hear a case regarding the constitutionality of Washington D.C.'s handgun ban:

The District has the nation's most restrictive law, essentially banning private handgun ownership and requiring that rifles and shotguns kept in private homes be unloaded and disassembled or outfitted with a trigger lock. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last year declared it unconstitutional, becoming the first appeals court to overturn a gun-control law because of the Second Amendment.

For years, legal scholars, historians and grammarians have debated the meaning of the amendment because of its enigmatic wording and odd punctuation: "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."

Gun-rights proponents say the words guarantee the right of an individual to possess firearms. Gun-control supporters say the words convey only a civic or "collective" right to own guns as part of service in an organized military organization. The Bush administration said in 2002 that it supports the individual-rights position.

As the article notes, the Supreme Court will address an issue it hasn't addressed in over seven decades, in the 1939 case United States v. Miller, where the court held that the Second Amendment did not invalidate a federal regulation that made it illegal to transport a sawed-off shotgun across state lines. Despite the widespread belief that the amendment does protect the individual's right to own firearms, Federal courts of appeal have been split on the issue, with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals holding that it does, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal holding that it does not. Given the divisions, it seems appropriate for the Court to address the matter again. Predictions as to the outcome will probably vary. Here's Jack Balkin:

I predict that the Court will hold (1) that the 2nd amendment protects an individual right, (2) that this right applies against laws in federal territories like the District of Columbia, (3) that a relatively deferential standard of reasonableness applies, and (4) that, even under this relatively deferential statute at least one part of the D.C. gun control law is unconstitutional. That is to say, I predict a decision that tries to split the difference and is aimed roughly at the middle of public opinion, even if not the exact center.

Such a ruling would hardly be the end of the world for gun control advocates, as the implication is clearly that states can regulate the extent to which individuals can own firearms for private use. In fact, it would seem to be a little more than an affirmation of the political status quo when it comes to gun control, as gun control regulations have been defeated not via Constitutional challenge, but mostly via political advocacy.

No comments: