Thursday, June 26, 2008

Supreme Court rules on the Second Amendment

The Supreme Court has released its ruling on the Second Amendment, District of Columbia v. Heller. They've decided that Americans do have a fundamental right to own guns. Personally, I am not that surprised or even disappointed by the ruling. I would have been in favor of a ban, but I think the more important principle is that the ruling affirmed that the state can regulate firearms. Some day I would love to ask Wayne LaPierre, of the NRA, "What exactly does the phrase 'well-regulated' mean to you?"

The answer to that question, for me, is that there are two potential interpretations of the phrase "well-regulated." It could mean "lots of laws," or it could mean "good laws." I prefer to think that it means "good laws."

Of course, the definition of "good laws" will differ greatly, depending on who is doing the defining. Five members of the Supreme Court decided that the law in the Distrcit of Columbia severely restricting the right of individuls to own a certain type of gun was not a good law. But the principle that this is not an unlimited right, that the state has a right to regulate gun ownership, was reaffirmed by the majority.

Politically, I think this will work out well for both McCain and Obama. McCain can claim that the Supreme Court has determined that the Second Amendment does confer a right to own guns, while Obama can claim that the Supreme Court has determined that the Second Amendment allows the state to regulate that possesion of firearms. Which is close to Obama's position on guns - he has said that individuals have a right to own guns.

I hope that this tones down the debate, but I'm not optimistic. It is going to be harder for some hardcore gun nuts to claim persecution by the government. It will now also be almost impossible for gun owners to claim that any regulation is too much. The only question now is how much regulation of guns is permissible. Which is an appropriate question for a legislature in a democracy.

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