The 2nd Amendment and the 2008 election
With the impending Presidential election less than 2 months away there are discussions across the nation about issues many Americans hold dear. The media has emphasized some of these issues, like alternative energy, education, and nationalized (standardized) healthcare. But there are other issues that are as important and not nearly as well covered.
The 2nd Amendment provides for the Right to bear arms. Many liberal politicians seek to restrict the scope and definition of this Right. Some conservatives seek to expand it. But to fully understand this Right, as it exists today it is important to understand the laws and Court rulings in place currently that affect it.
One of the most important and recent would be District of Columbia v. Heller. This case dealt with the right of an American citizen to own a handgun, and to be able to have a rifle or shotgun that is owned to be loaded and/or assembled or unbound by a trigger lock. What was also at issue was something not written, whether an individual had a right to arms or was it that only state militias that had this right.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that individuals do have that right, can own handguns, and have the ultimate decision on how that firearm is maintained in their home. Justice Scalia stated
“In sum, we hold that the District's ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense ... We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.”
It was further stated that it
“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.”
In essence that further supports existing law. The combination of these comments, and this ruling in general, has helped to ensure that the Right to bear arms continues to live as it did when the Constitution was made.
But if some liberals were to have their dreams, then it may have been possible that this landmark decision could have gone 4-5 against. As such ALL Americans would have faced the potential of losing the right to own handguns currently in their possession, and the encroachment of the Government into their homes to ensure compliance.
Of the candidates looking to be elected as either President or Vice President, the clearest proponent of Heller would be Gov. Sarah Palin.
The only other relevant case would be the 1939 United States v. Miller. This case looked at the right of an individual to own various types of firearms, particularly short-barreled rifles and shotguns and fully automatic firearms. What Miller resolved is hard to understand as many interpretations exist.
Perhaps the best answer is this which came from the abovementioned Heller
“Miller stands only for the proposition that the Second Amendment right, whatever its nature, extends only to certain types of weapons. It is particularly wrongheaded to read Miller for more than what it said, because the case did not even purport to be a thorough examination of the Second Amendment.”
Whatever the interpretation the Court found in Miller that sawed-off shotguns were not included in the 2nd Amendment. It also made clear that the Government had the right to regulate certain types of firearms, which includes fully automatic firearms.
The ambiguous nature of Miller was purposive. And Heller intentionally did not interfere with its ruling.
That is the full breadth of the Supreme Court on the 2nd Amendment. Considering that Heller was just handed down this year, it will likely be faced with challenges and lawmakers that favor or oppose this ruling. The manner in which the Government reacts to these future challenges, and/or the selection of future members of the Court will rest firmly on the shoulders of our next elected Executives.