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Gun Control - DC v Heller (2008)

Discussion
Oct 23, 2012

Gun control is a critical issue in America. We lead all industrial nations in per capita gun deaths. Despite relatively strict gun laws, it is still possible to gain access to assault weapons. Gun shows are exempt from federal and state laws regarding which weapons they can sell, and whether or not background checks must be performed. I read two articles about this issue. They are both summaries of opinions by Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens and Antonin Scalia, from a court case in 2008. The case said the District of Columbia could not ban handguns from homes, and that the Second Amendment was for personal right to bear arms, not states’ rights to bear arms. This was a departure from previous court cases, where the Supreme Court maintained the Second Amendment was talking about States, not individuals.

Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion in the case, DC v Heller. He worried that the Court would be going against the Bill of Rights if they supported the District of Columbia. Scalia said that “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home”. This was the first time that Amendment had been interpreted in such a way. His wording carefully extends militia use to self-defense within the home, as militias are used for self-defense of communities and states. He views the home as simply an extension of a community.

John Paul Stevens wrote a scathing dissent on the issue. He reviewed documentation of the drafting of Amendments, and found the writers had in fact “rejected proposals that would have broadened its coverage” to gun use at homes. The preamble to the Amendment also mentions militia multiple times, never individuals. Finally, Stevens notes the amendment does not reference “the right to use firearms for hunting or personal self-defense.”, which was the core of the case. Despite the historical evidence, Stevens ended up writing his opinion for the losing side.

The core of the gun control debate is the Second Amendment, and whether it is about individuals or states. For a long time, the Supreme Court said it was about states, but that all changed in 2008. DC v Heller is the current precedent for gun control, so the laws are not likely to tighten any time soon, unless another case reaches the Supreme Court at a time when the justices are more liberal, or following a major massacre.

Sources:

Antonin Scalia and the Reporter of Decisions. "The Right to Own a Gun Is Guaranteed by the Constitution." Is Gun Ownership a Right? Ed. Kelly Doyle. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. At Issue. Rpt. from "Syllabus, and Opinion of the Court, in Supreme Court of the United States." District of Columbia ET AL. v. Heller. 2008. 1-64. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 23 Oct. 2012.

Stevens, John Paul. "The Right to Own a Gun Is Not Guaranteed by the Constitution." Is Gun Ownership a Right? Ed. Kelly Doyle. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. At Issue. Rpt. from "Dissenting Opinion, in Supreme Court of the United States, District of Columbia ET AL. v. Heller." 2008. 1-46. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 23 Oct. 2012.