In the summers of 2008 and 2010, our national bloodletting got endorsements from the Supreme Court. That’s when Justices Scalia and Alito and their conservative brethren struck down bans on handguns in D.C. and Chicago. The right to own a gun for self defense is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution, the Court said in Heller vs. D.C and McDonald vs. Chicago.
The rulings make serious gun control impossible. Justice Scalia did say recently that the right to “bear arms” means you have to be able to bear them, so laws limiting ownership of canons would be okay. He also said some future Court would have to decide about hand-held rocket launchers capable of bringing down passenger planes.
Today twenty Connecticut school children were shot with handguns in their classroom. I guess you don’t need a canon or a rocket-propelled grenade to do a lot of damage. See also, Aurora, Columbine, etc., etc.
Self-defense. That’s what we need them for. Let’s take a look at that. The Harvard Injury Control Research Center found that guns on the street and in the home are more likely to be used to intimidate innocents than for self-defense. Few criminals are actually shot by law-abiding citizens.
If you read the Heller and McDonald opinions, one of the things you’ll notice is how much time is spent on what people thought in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Did they like guns? Did they think it was important to own them? Well, sure. They had just used them to overthrow the English. And it was a wild country for a long time after that. With the nearest sheriff a day away, it made sense to be able to protect yourself.
In his reasoning in McDonald, Justice Alito makes a point of how much the American colonists admired the English laws that guaranteed the right to keep arms. Today, of course, England has the some of the toughest gun control laws (and lowest gun crime rates) in the world. I share the admiration of our forebears for the English approach. Too bad our laws didn’t adapt to changing times as intelligently as theirs did.
When I was a boy, people who didn’t like the views of liberal judges or ivory-tower academics called them “pointy-heads,” meaning they might have a high IQ but they were hopelessly out of touch with the real world. Well, the Alito gang at the Supreme Court certainly fits that bill. We’re no longer a nation of farmers. We’re not civilian revolutionaries. The nearest sheriff is just around the corner.
While our eighteenth-century rights, which we don’t even use much for their intended purpose, are being protected, who is looking out for the children who are being murdered? It’s as if the grizzled old sheriff in a Hollywood Western met the wild, gun-toting cowboys as they rode into town and said: Have a drink on me, boys. Plenty of ammunition behind the bar. Last one alive, turn out the lights.