Morning Bell: The Right to Self-Defense
Conn Carroll /
Since the District of Columbia first instituted its ban on handguns, there has been only one year (1985) that the homicide rate in the city fell below what it was in 1976. Worse, in 15 of the 29 years since the ban went into effect, D.C. had either the first or second highest murder rate among the nation’s 50 largest cities.
In 2003, D.C. special police officer Dick Heller joined five other D.C. residents and sued to challenge D.C.’s handgun ban. Heller carries a handgun while on duty as a guard at the Federal Judicial Center and, like his co-plaintiffs, wants to possess one at his home for self defense. Last year the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down the handgun ban, holding that “the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms.” Denied a rehearing, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty appealed to the Supreme Court, which will hear the case tomorrow.
Joined by gun-control activists, D.C. argues that the Second Amendment protects only a right to arms on service of a government-organized militia. As George Mason University law professor Nelson Lund points out, this is just not consistent with the text and history of the Constitution. Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress complete authority to regulate the militia. Reading the Second Amendment as gun-control advocates do would substantially amend this power — and there is no historical evidence showing this was the Framers’ intent.
Furthermore, Article 1, section 10 prohibits states from keeping troops without the consent of Congress. Again, there is no evidence the Second Amendment was intended to repeal this clause of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has consistently held that the federal government has extremely broad power to preempt state militia laws and has never suggested the Second Amendment has any relevance on those questions.
The Bush administration has urged the high court to violate the Second Amendment in the same way Congress has violated the First Amendment with campaign finance laws. Despite the First Amendment’s decree that Congress “shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech,” the court has allowed laws that ban speech in the days leading up to elections. In the same vein, the Bush administration has urged the court to allow government’s to impose “reasonable restrictions” on an individual’s right to bear arms.
Even if the court does decide to weaken the Second Amendment as much as they have to First, the residents of D.C. (and many other cities around the country) will still have scored a victory if the court finally recognizes the Second Amendment as an individual right.
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