A great day for individual freedom

The US Supreme Court this week affirmed the original intent of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution with regard to personal self-defense. The decision is a rare triumph for individual rights, but further cases will be needed to remove the remaining

Thursday was a great day for all of us in the United States of America.

In its ruling on the case District of Columbia v. Heller, our Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment to the US Constitution means what it plainly says: the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right.

The Supreme Court building
The Supreme Court of the United States

In its decision (available here, along with the dissenting opinions), the Court rejected decades of mendacious propaganda from anti-gun activists, including those who infest the city government in the District of Columbia, where this case originated.

Opponents of gun rights-- whether they believe that the people should be disarmed completely, or simply left without the means to resist government oppression-- have long maintained that the Second Amendment gives Americans only a collective right to belong to a government-controlled militia, and that other purposes of gun ownership, such as self-defense and hunting, have no Constitutional protection.

These absurd lies have been refuted repeatedly over the years, but they were conclusively shredded by the clear and comprehensive analysis of the Court's opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia.

Scalia even went to the trouble of refuting the dissenting opinions put forth by Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer.

The amendment is simple:

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.

Our would-be oppressors in DC and elsewhere have asserted that the first half of the amendment, in mentioning the militia, has the effect of constraining the second half. But of course if the framers wished to say that, they had only to say "...the right of the Militia to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

They did not mean that, and they did not say that.

The militia is referenced to define a political purpose for the amendment: ensuring that effective militias may be raised from among the people when they are needed to defend our country or its individual states. In constitutional amendments, like anywhere else, giving one reason for a decision doesn't imply the rejection of all other possible reasons.

Based on his analysis of contemporary documents, Justice Scalia shows that this is how the framers intended the Amendment to be read. Dividing the Amendment into a "prefatory clause" and an "operative clause," Scalia states the obvious truth:

...A prefatory clause does not limit or expand the scope of the operative clause.

In discussing the "operative clause," the heart of the Amendment, Scalia goes right for the knockout punch: everywhere else in the Bill of Rights that rights of "the people" are described, they are clearly and unambiguously defined as individual rights.

Scalia goes on from there to demolish all the other significant arguments of the gun grabbers, and his decision is well worth reading, especially for those who don't understand that the intent of the Amendment is no longer up for discussion in this country. This is not the kind of decision that could rationally be reversed later; the evidence and analysis Scalia presents is irrefutable.

The original case addressed only the right of an individual to possess and carry a firearm within the home for purposes of self-defense. Our Federal appeals courts, including the Supreme Court, have a tradition of addressing only the issues raised in the cases they consider. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dealt only with this specific right.

But the Second Amendment is broader in nature; it protects freedoms that are much more politically significant. Scalia predicts that these other freedoms may become the subject of future rulings by the Court:

But since this case represents this Court's first in-depth examination of the Second Amendment, one should not expect it to clarify the entire field...

I hope that the Court is given the opportunity to examine the other purposes of the Second Amendment, and the sooner, the better.

About the author

    Peter N. Glaskowsky is a computer architect in Silicon Valley and a technology analyst for the Envisioneering Group. He has designed chip- and board-level products in the defense and computer industries, managed design teams, and served as editor in chief of the industry newsletter "Microprocessor Report." He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. Disclosure.

     

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