Last week, the United States Supreme Court lifted the ban on handgun ownership in Washington, D.C. “Who cares?” you might heckle, as you likely don’t live in the Chocolate City, but I submit that you should care: The ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller marks the first real attempt in more than 70 years to clarify what owning a handgun really means-and it has national ramifications.
The amendment in question reads: “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.” That’s it. And that ambiguous, awkwardly punctuated little sentence has been the subject of much discussion as folks on both sides of the gun debate have tried to suss out what the drafters of the Bill of Rights actually intended. Does it just mean that we can grab guns as part of an organized army to protect the country, or that we can all pick up a shotty for the hell of it?
I have to admit, I’ve never really given it much thought before; gun arguments are for the rednecks living in log cabins in the boonies, eating what they kill and shooting darkies who set foot on their property, not 20-something chicas living in tiny apartments in the big city, eating what they can grab at Whole Foods and trying to keep the man’s foot off their necks. But it’s living in that very same big city that has made me give this issue some thought-three people were shot within eight blocks of my home Memorial Day weekend, and that makes me a wee bit nervous. How are these cats getting these guns, and what makes them comfortable shooting my neighbors for fun?
The Supreme Court’s ruling (a 5-4 split decision, led by conservative justice Antonin Scalia) finds that the amendment grants the right for individuals to own handguns “unconnected with service in a militia” and makes it illegal to restrict licensed ownership for most people (felons and the mentally ill are excluded). It also says that laws that require trigger locks for guns are unconstitutional, as they might prevent the owner from using the gun “for the purpose of immediate self-defense.”
Word? So what about the fact that very trigger lock keeps unwitting children who find said gun from blowing off their own heads? Or the statistics that show that owning a gun triples your chance of being killed in your home and quintuples the likelihood of suicide? Or the fact that said gun is 22 times more likely to be used to kill a family member or friend than to kill in self-defense?
For real, I don’t have a problem with people owning guns; I have a problem with how they handle them and what they use them for, so the fact that this ruling confirms that we can all own guns doesn’t disturb me. The vagueness of the ruling, however, does concern me. While Scalia notes that “the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns,” that’s all he says. I for one feel that there is absolutely no reason to purchase an automatic weapon (think anything a bad guy might carry in a movie) for the sake of protecting their home; a semi-automatic or an unmodified shotgun should do nicely. But the good justices did not elaborate enough to give lawmakers a standard to go by when replacing the numerous laws that will now be struck down as a result of this ruling.
I’m not the only one who laments the lack of specificity. In a dissenting opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens, who many consider to be the liberal leader of the court, wrote: “A conclusion that the Second Amendment protects an individual right does not tell us anything about the scope of that right.” He, and the three other justices who joined him, also feels that it is an incorrect conclusion to draw, that the amendment clearly says that we can bear arms within the structure of the military. This decision amounts to a taking away of the right of the legislators to “regulate the civilian use and misuse of firearms,” says Stevens.
So while the judges and the legislators try to figure out through trial-and-error which state and local laws are unconstitutional, and which guns are suitable for home use, and how we can legally protect our children from accidental shootings, and how we can prevent guns from falling into criminal hands, we will live in a world of potentially dangerous ambiguity. And as an Aries, there’s nothing I hate more than ambiguity.
What do you think about this ruling?
If you like Kenryaâ€™s opinion, check out the rest of her posts here.
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