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Heller win

Posted by Richard on June 27, 2008

The Heller ruling is in:

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms, ending a ban on owning handguns in the capital city in its first ruling on gun rights in 70 years.

The court's 5-4 landmark decision — on whether the right to keep and bear arms is fundamentally an individual or collective right — said the city's law violated the second amendment of the US constitution which the justices said guaranteed citizens the right to keep guns at home for self-defense.

"There seems to us no doubt, on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms," wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in the court's decision.

He added that while the court took seriously the problem of handgun violence: "The constitution leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns.

"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."

It was a victory for gun rights advocates and could have a far reaching impact on gun control legislation across the country. Opponents may now challenge other laws in cities such as New York that restrict the ownership of handguns in the name of public safety.

Scalia wrote the 63-page majority opinion, which was joined by Roberts, Kennedy, Alito, and Thomas. This seems to be a qualified victory, but a victory nonetheless. I've just skimmed the syllabus and the last couple of pages of Scalia's opinion, and this paragraph in the latter jumped out at me:

JUSTICE BREYER chides us for leaving so many applications of the right to keep and bear arms in doubt, and for not providing extensive historical justification for those regulations of the right that we describe as permissible. See post, at 42–43. But since this case represents this Court’s first in-depth examination of the Second Amendment, one should not expect it to clarify the entire field, any more than Reynolds v. United States, 98 U. S. 145 (1879), our first in-depth Free Exercise Clause case, left that area in a state of utter certainty. And there will be time enough to expound upon the historical justifications for the exceptions we have mentioned if and when those exceptions come before us.

So, stay tuned. 

And don't forget, the next President will probably name two or three Supreme Court justices. One more Ginsberg or Breyer and this decision would have gone the other way. In other words, if Bush had not been re-elected, a SCOTUS with two Kerry nominees in place of Scalia and Roberts would have declared that the Second Amendment did not confer an individual right and was essentially null and void. 

If gun rights matter to you, you may want to think about that. And maybe get one of these.  

UPDATE: FreedomSight has a plethora of links, quotes, and biting commentary (and Jed's promising an "in-depth" look at the ruling itself later). At the end of the post, he also has great Kalashnikitty news. Don't miss it. And I'm not just saying that because he quoted and linked to me. 🙂

UPDATE 2: Billll singled out for attention a couple of quotes from the dissenting opinions, one from Stevens and one from Breyer. Go read. If you're like me, you'll involuntarily laugh, then you'll shudder and work to suppress your gag reflex, and then you'll shake your head in disbelief that such men were considered to be among the best jurists in the country and tasked with protecting the Constitution.

Billll's reaction is perfect: "We really don’t need any more like these." Maybe he should get one of these.  

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6 Responses to “Heller win”

  1. RedPencil said

    Finally, the active clause wins over the modifying clause. About time.

  2. Jan said

    Perfect comment, RedPencil!

  3. rgcombs said

    Let’s hear it for understanding grammar! I agree with the late Richard Mitchell that much of today’s muddled thinking is due to the deterioration of the language and the general lack of language skills.

    Despite the superfluous commas (common at the time), the Second Amendment should be perfectly clear to anyone who knows how to diagram a sentence — an unfortunately lost art.

    But I don’t think any amount of English language education would change the minds of John Paul Stevens, who thinks the majority created “a new constitutional right,” or Stephen Breyer, who insists that the 2nd Amendment “protects militia-related, not self-defense-related, interests.”

    Such people can’t be persuaded by logic or facts. They just need to be kept off the Supreme Court. Or horsewhipped and ridden out of town on a rail.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Hathor said

    Diagram the sentence. Let us all see, if you still remember.

  5. rgcombs said

    I don’t have to, Eugene R. Moutoux has already done it. In fact, he’s diagrammed the Preamble, Bill of Rights, a selection of other amendments, and the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence (a real bear!). Moutoux explained the modifying phrase (technically, not a clause) as follows:

    ”The phrase beginning with “a well-regulated militia” and ending with “a free State” is an absolute phrase, a.k.a. nominative absolute. A nominative absolute consists of a substantive (a noun or noun substitute) and a participle and has no grammatical connection with the rest of the sentence.”

    In a grammatical context, ”absolute” means “free-standing.” Here’s a pretty good description (emphasis added):

    ”Usually (but not always, as we shall see), an absolute phrase (also called a nominative absolute) is a group of words consisting of a noun or pronoun and a participle as well as any related modifiers. Absolute phrases ”’do not directly connect to or modify any specific word”’ in the rest of the sentence; instead, they modify the entire sentence, ”’adding information.”’ They are always treated as ”’parenthetical elements”’ and are set off from the rest of the sentence with a comma or a pair of commas (sometimes by a dash or pair of dashes). Notice that absolute phrases contain a subject (which is often modified by a participle), but not a true finite verb.”

    See also this excellent column by Dave Kopel (who wrote an amicus brief for Heller and was invited to sit with the plaintiffs at the Supreme Court; and who is a life-long Democrat). If you want to get right to the grammar nitty-gritty, look a little over half-way through for the paragraph starting with “Mr. Brocki walked Schulman through the grammatical terms” and read the rest.

  6. Hathor said

    I can’t say I remember from the fifth grade, but some part of the way Moutoux diagrams seems unfamiliar. I wish I had my grammar books from then, it seems some things have changed in structure. Maybe this is a more advanced form. Would it possibly have been modernized over the past 60 years, since I’m sure my textbooks were written in the 40’s.

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