LITERALISTS

Posted in Rants on June 27th, 2008 by Ed

(NPF is cancelled on account of Thursday's high-profile Supreme Court decision)

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution:

"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."

I further submit the words of the Original Originalist, Mr. No-Interpretation-Permitted Scalia himself, in the majority opinion in the DC Handgun case (DC v. Heller):

"The Constitution leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns. But the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table. These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home."

Now, can anyone point to the part of the 2nd Amendment which deals with "self-defense"? Take your time. I'll wait.

It is neither new nor particularly noteworthy to engage in very selective readings of the 2nd Amendment. The pro-gun folks always conveniently forget the "well-regulated Militia" part whereas their opponents forget the second half of the Amendment when doing so is politically expedient. My personal belief is that the Amendment obviously enshrines some sort of right of firearm ownership to American citizens but the oft-forgotten "well-regulated Militia" part is a key qualifier. It means that state (or Federal, as the Amendment does not specify) laws may regulate firearm ownership short of banning it. Since the DC ordinance banned handgun ownership, I have no problem with the Court's decision. The language of the Amendment does not permit the right to be legislatively rescinded.

What I do have a problem with is the "Goddammit, we read the Constitution literally, like the Bible!" crowd and its patron saint talking about a constitutionally-enshrined right to keep handguns in the home for self-defense. From which asshole was this enshrined right yanked, and with how much force? Nowhere in the language of the Constitution or in Madison's notes on the Constitutional Convention is an expression of the need to keep guns in our bedroom to plug burglars (or, more accurately, to accidentally shoot our family members whom we think are burglars, which statistics show is about 50 times more likely than actually shooting a burglar).

The 2nd Amendment was not written because the Founders wanted to make sure that we could go Wyatt Earp on street thugs. Perhaps this is a legitimate reason in defense of private firearm ownership, but it's not a reason given in the Constitution. Steven Breyer's dissent speaks to this point in detail: "The Second Amendment's language, while speaking of a 'militia,' says nothing of 'self-defense.' " I thought Scalia was supposed to care about this sort of thing. He does, of course. On occassion.

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