Monday, June 28, 2010

A Naive Post on Gun Rights And The SCOTUS

I'm going to go all naive in this post, because I want to. The topic is this:

The Second Amendment's guarantee of an individual right to bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The ruling came almost exactly two years after the court first ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own guns in District of Columbia v. Heller, another 5-to-4 decision.

But the Heller case addressed only federal laws; it left open the question of whether Second Amendment rights protect gun owners from overreaching by state and local governments.

The ruling is an enormous symbolic victory for supporters of gun rights, but its short-term practical impact is unclear. As in the Heller decision, the justices left for another day the question of just what kinds of gun control laws can be reconciled with Second Amendment protection.

The majority said only that the right to keep handguns for self-protection at home is constitutionally protected. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority, reiterated the caveats in the Heller decision, saying the court did not mean to cast doubt on laws prohibiting possession of guns by felons or the mentally ill, those forbidding carrying guns in sensitive places like schools and government buildings or those regulating the commercial sale of firearms.

This is another of those 5-4 decisions which show how the wingnuts are going to rule the country through the judicial branch for decades to come. A reminder for all of us that the court matters. A lot.

I promised to be naive, and I will. My first thought on reading this is that desperate unemployed people can't get jobs or help from the local government but their right to be armed is honored! That makes for a really happy society in which to live.

My second thought was the one I always have when reading about the Second Amendment, which is to try to stretch my poor brain to make the leap from "well-regulated militia" to Bob-can-have-a-rifle-in-his-pants.

My third thought was about the equilibrium in the gun-carrying markets: It seems to me that the more common guns as threats become (check out Anthony's post below), the more necessary it becomes for everyone to carry.

And I don't want to live in such a world. Too many people have road-rage. If you have a gun in the car, your momentary rage can turn into a killing one, and lives are ruined. Too many people get into shouting matches in bars. If even one of the participants has a gun, things will turn bloody. Too many people have fights with their partners at home. Too many people get drunk before such fights. And so on.

My fourth thought was about those NRA slogans: "Guns Don't Kill. People Do," and "An Armed Society Is A Polite Society." They are both rubbish, of course.

It's true that guns don't get up in the closet, walk out and start killing people at the local shopping mall. But it's every bit as true that a guy going over there to kill people with his bare hands or even a knife doesn't manage to kill very many people before he is stopped. The same guy with a gun can do much more damage. And no, having everyone armed in the mall is not the answer to the mass shootings. It would cause even more dead people, unless you assume that all the shoppers are trained sharp-shooters with minds as cool and calm as yogurt under stress.

Which reminds me of that "well-regulated militia" statement. The "well-regulated" part. Shouldn't that mean something like requiring extensive training in gun use, gun storage and how to stay calm in stressful situations when carrying a gun? A test which you have to take every few years to show that you are a careful shooter?

The "armed society is a polite society" argument is equally wrong. It is based on an assumption that if everyone was armed no quarrel could ever escalate because we'd all be thinking of the gun the other person is visibly carrying. Such calmness and forethought! Just what happened with the mortgage crisis! And of course the mythical Wild West was a very polite place.

Finally, this decision is another example of the states' rights argument being most malleable. States have rights which conservatives like. They don't have rights which conservatives dislike. So it goes.