Monday, March 24, 2008

Gun Control - A Right To Own Guns: Personal or Militia?

Today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether the US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment contains a right to own a gun as a personal right or if that relates strictly to militias. I am personally indifferent as I do not own a gun, don’t hunt and am fortunate not to live in a dangerous area that would prompt me to have a gun at home or carry one for protection. The District of Columbia law has banned all handguns (except for police) since 1976. The District argues that its law is fine since the 2nd Amendment relates much more to the right of the people to maintain militias rather than to any individual, personal right to keep and bear arms. In my view, the text of the amendment is ambiguous - it certainly cites both.

So who’s right? While strong arguments can be made on both sides - especially with a bevy of sophisticated legal talent weighing in - I have to land on the side of gun owners and the existence of a personal right. I think that the founders were far more leary of an armed government that could slip into despotism if the people could not have the option of overthrowing that government. That said, do we still want to look at this 20th and 21st Century problem of street awash in guns that kill people at record rates through the rose colored glasses of a 18th century document? Isn’t that what the Elastic Clause allows us to do - to make all laws “necessary and proper” to effectuate the provisions of the Constitution. And doesn’t the undisputable tragedy of handgun deaths merit a strong societal response?

I think that the real question is - as is the case for many legal quandries - isn’t there room for both a personal right and some reasonable regulation of that right? Simply put - yes. We do that with most rights contained in the Bill of Rights. We adore free speech but don’t let people slander, incite riots, or yell “fire” in a crowded theater. We arduously protect a citizen’s right to remain silent and not incriminate themselves but allow cops to lie to those citizens about the strength of evidence to get them to confess and otherwise coerce that them to give up that right. The list goes on but the point is: can’t we do the same with guns? I would never want to restrict legitimate gun rights of someone to protect themselves, their family or even to hunt (though I personally don’t see the big thrill). But I also think that the carnage that hand guns have created in modern society can only lead to death when in the wrong hands. As big of a libertarian as I am, some regulation, I think is appropriate here.

John A. Birdsall, Birdsall Law Offices, S.C.
135 W. Wells St., Ste 214, Milwaukee, WI 53203
414.831.5465 -

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