Guns, Death and Democrats
Yesterday, the US Supreme Court (in District of Columbia vs. Heller) settled a long standing controversy about gun ownership and a possession. Is the vaunted Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms” a derivative one, linked to the “well regulated militias” language of that amendment, or is it an individual one? The answer is now settled – once again by a 5 t o4 ruling.
“The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”
Registration and licensing requirements were not invalidated, per se, but they can’t be used to prohibit the home possession of firearms – especially pistols, as Justice Scalia reminds us, because they are particularly useful for self defense.
The court (per Scalia – well known for his lucid writing) also said:
“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”
Both presidential candidates were quick to support the ruling. Senator Obama in his typically measured response, appeared to be reassuring democrats that (a) he is a reasonable guy and (b) the ruling isn’t that bad after all.
Actually, the decision is a good one for democrats if they are astute enough to absorb the lesson. Self defense in America’s crime plagued inner cities is a big deal. A number of the left’s putatively core constituencies – think gays and lesbians, frail elders and young professional women – are closet gun rights supporters because they, above all, don’t enjoy being undefended targets.
Political turnout is almost always driven by constituencies frightened by the risk that a candidate or party is going to “take something away”. The surest path to democratic defeat is to “stir up the gun nuts” who turn out to vote as a block at every threat – real or perceived – to the sacred right to gun ownership. Here’s the dirty little secret: They aren’t nuts. Self defense is at the heart of the Second Amendment. If the country arrives at a judicially driven consensus (Think the Brown vs. Board of Education analogy here) that private gun ownership is a right not lightly to be infringed, then the primary beneficiary will be the Democratic Party, the left wing of which always seems to need and benefit from adult supervision.
A similar issue is the death penalty, one in which too many liberal democrats, too often gravely misunderstand. Yesterday, I posted a revised version of “Death, Deterrence and Reform” which should be studied (I modestly assert) by every liberal democrat or moderate republican who thinks he or she actually understands the death penalty issue. Go to http://jaygaskill.com/DeathDeterrenceReform.htm .
And yes, the larger game remains unsettled. Which American political party will – over the next two elections cycles – be best able to capture the populist center? On that larger question, the jury is still out…