Does the Second Amendment give one the right to keep and bear arms (even allowing one to invoke that right against the government itself), or is it a freedom only as it concerns the federal government?
As Amy Goodman reported on her Democracy Now! program, that question will now be taken up by the United States Supreme Court, and the Courtâ€™s decision could have nationwide ramifications. Said Goodman yesterday:
The Supreme Court has decided to rule on whether state and local handgun laws violate the Second Amendment right to gun ownership, which it recognized last year, when the Court struck down a handgun ban in Washington, DC. Justices will now decide whether handgun rights also extend beyond federal districts to the state and local level.
Should the Court find Chicagoâ€™s gun ban unconstitutional, the decision will not only allow residents of that city to keep guns in their homes for personal protection, it will also open the door to challenge similar gun bans nationwide.
In last yearâ€™s Washington DC ruling, the Court affirmed that the Second Amendment prevailed over DCâ€™s ban on handguns, but because the capital is a federal enclave, the decision did not extend to other bans in the rest of the country.Â Many of those various state and city laws banning guns were imposed in the 19th century, at the close of the Civil War. Since then, Judges have been reluctant to challenge those restrictions.
In Chicago, Otis McDonald and three other local residents commenced their action against the city, in a case now known as McDonald v. Chicago, because of their fear of rising crime in their neighborhood. McDonald, a retired maintenance engineer, had been routinely threatened by drug dealers outside his home and was looking to protect himself:
I only want a handgun in my house for my protection. This lawsuit, I hope, will allow me to bring my handgun into the city legally.
The current law, argues McDonald, protects only the criminals:
We worked all our lives, paid taxes, did the right thing in life and here we are vulnerable to somebody who never went to school, is never going to go to school, and is living off of what they can get out of us â€” that’s what itâ€™s all about.
Interestingly, in the afterglow of the Supreme Courtâ€™s decision in Washington DC last year, McDonald actually has a very good chance of winning this case.
And whatâ€™s happened in DC since the Court struck down the cityâ€™s gun ban?
Preliminary police statistics show that in the past year, violent and property crimes have gone down citywide. Since July 2008, 515 handguns have been legally registered with the police department, while 2,000 illegal weapons have been taken off the street. Of the 515 newly registered guns, not one of them has been stolen, used in a crime, or fired by its owner in defense of life or property.
A sensible law allowing sensible people the right to protect themselves is something that even the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has no problem with. Their spokesman, Peter Hamm, said of the new gun regulations:
We think the District has adopted sensible gun laws. If every jurisdiction in the U.S. had reasonable laws and common sense laws …we would be fine with that sort of system.
Most sensible people would agree.