Thursday, June 26, 2008

Supreme Court Favors Gun Owners, Obama Waffles

The big political news this afternoon is the Supreme Court's decision in the D.C. Second Amendment case.

The Los Angeles Times has the background:

Americans have a right to keep a gun at home for self-defense, the Supreme Court ruled today in striking down part of a handgun ban in the District of Columbia.

By a 5-4 vote, the court concluded that the 2nd Amendment and its famous right "to keep and bear arms" protects the gun rights of individuals, rather than just a state's right to maintain a militia.

Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking for the court, said the history of the 2nd Amendment shows its authors intended to protect the "right of the people" as individuals to have weapons, both to defend themselves and their community.

The ruling is the first in the high court's long history to strike down a gun law based on the 2nd Amendment.

But the court's ruling appeared to be narrow. Scalia stressed that nothing in today's decision casts doubts on laws that forbid felons or the mentally ill from having guns.

He also said the government can strictly regulate when and where people have guns. For example, he said guns may be prohibited near schools and in or near government buildings.

"Like most rights, the right secured by the 2nd Amendment is not unlimited," Scalia said.

But the four dissenters faulted the majority for opening the door to legal challenges to various gun-control measures. Justice John Paul Stevens, speaking for the dissenters, said the 2nd Amendment "was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several states to maintain a well-regulated militia."

"The court is making new law today" to extend this right to individuals acting on their own, Stevens said.

The White House issued a statement calling the case historic. "The president strongly agrees with the Supreme Court's historic decision today that the 2nd Amendment protects the individual right of Americans to keep and bear arms," it said. "This has been the administration's long-held view. The president is also pleased that the court concluded that the D.C. firearm laws violate that right.

From the campaign trail, Republican John McCain hailed the decision as "a landmark victory for 2nd Amendment freedom" and chided Democrat Barack Obama for not joining him in a friend-of-the-court brief. For his part, Obama issued a statement saying that the court had in effect endorsed his view that while "the 2nd Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms" it does not preclude "the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures."
It turns out Obama's trying to get on the right side of public opinion on gun rights (73 percent believes the 2nd Amendment guarantees the right to gun ownership).

For more, see "
Obama Camp Disavows Last Year's 'Inartful' Statement on D.C. Gun Law."