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SCOTUS makes history, shoots down gun ban

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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Answering a 217-year-old constitutional question, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a historic ruling this morning that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to have a gun in his or her home.

The ideologically split 5-4 decision in District of Columbia, et al. v. Heller, No. 07-290, struck down a city handgun ban in Washington, D.C., and defined the scope of the gun rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution for the 21st century.

Specific to this case, the court affirmed a Circuit Court ruling striking down the city's 1976 law banning handguns and allowing only disassembled or locked rifles and shotguns. Heller, a security guard, challenged the law after police refused to issue a license allowing him to keep a handgun in his home for protection.

In a cumulative 157-page decision that included two dissenting opinions, the court dissected the Second Amendment's scope for the first time since 1939, and wrote a court document laced with many historic references, legal analysis, and caselaw citations.

The court analyzed the language that says, "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."

This ruling is the first time in almost seven decades the court has considered the Second Amendment's scope, though the ruling in U.S. v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174, 179 (1939), didn't directly deal with this interpretation of the language - meaning it's the first time since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791 that the court has taken on this monumental task.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority that - despite times and gun varieties changing since 1791 and how the court is aware of the handgun violence problems that exist - the Second Amendment applies to modern society.

"Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security and where gun violence is a serious problem," he wrote in the 64-page majority opinion. "That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct."

Majority justices rejected arguments that the Second Amendment applied only to those arms that existed during the 18th century, pointing to caselaw on how the First and 14th Amendments also apply respectively to modern forms of communications and search methods. It applies to "all instruments that constitute bearable arms" and doesn't just apply to those participating in structured military organizations, the court wrote.

But the court wrote that "like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited," and used that to emphasize that it isn't casting doubt on long-standing bans on carrying a concealed gun or on gun possession by felons or the mentally retarded, and that laws putting conditions on gun sales and barring guns from schools or government buildings still apply.

Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer dissented in their own opinions, noting that the majority limited state legislators from regulating gun control and no evidence outside of "historical narratives" leads to the conclusion reached by the majority that the constitution's framers intended to limit that action.

"I can find no legal basis for launching the courts on such a formidable and potentially dangerous a mission," Justice Breyer wrote, referring to the decision's potential to throw into doubt gun laws across the nation. "In my view, there simply is no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas."

Sixty-seven amici briefs were filed in the case, with 47 in support of Heller's Second Amendment right and 20 wanting a reversal to scale back the scope. Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter is one of 31 state attorneys general who signed an amicus brief in support of the individual right, arguing that the Second Amendment applies to the rights of individuals, not states. Another brief from Congress recognized 250 House of Representative members and 55 Senators who supported Heller, including five of nine Indiana representatives but no Hoosier senators. Those included are: Representatives Dan Burton, Steve Buyer, Joe Donnelly, Michael Pence, and Mark Souder.
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  1. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

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  4. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  5. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

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