ILNews

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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  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

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  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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