Right to Bear Arms Is Backfiring

By Levine, Allan | Winnipeg Free Press, December 18, 2012 | Go to article overview

Right to Bear Arms Is Backfiring


Levine, Allan, Winnipeg Free Press


The 20-year-old gunman who opened fire at a Connecticut elementary school, killing 20 children and six adults, carried three rapid-fire weapons: a Bushmaster rifle, a Sig Sauer pistol and a Glock pistol. According to a 2011 report by the Washington-based Violence Policy Center, the Glock, in particular, is a "favourite of mass shooters" due to its light design and easy-to-reload feature,

He had access to this trio of rapid-fire weapons because his mother, whom he reportedly also murdered, had legally obtained and registered them. Why anyone would need such assault weapons to defend themselves or use for hunting or target practice is a question that does not seem to have a logical answer.

Is this really what James Madison, the "short, shy, soft-spoken, scholar-like man" (in the words of one of his biographers), constitutional advocate and the fourth president of the United States, had in mind when he included in his list of amendments to the U.S. Constitution one that, as ratified in 1791, stipulated: "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?"

Never mind the gun insanity that has now led in the U.S. to nine mass shootings (three in the past five months) since 2007 and resulted in the senseless deaths of 124 people. Did Madison and the other framers of the constitution of the late-18th century actually envision a situation where American citizens could enter a shopping mall with a gun holstered, as they can in Virginia, or walk around in public with a concealed weapon in Illinois?

Inexplicably, according to two recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, that indeed seems to be the case. Both were decided 5-4 in favour of the conservative majority led by Chief Justice John Roberts. In June 2008, in Heller v. District of Columbia, the court decided that D.C.'s Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975, which restricted the use of handguns in a federal jurisdiction, was unconstitutional and a violation of the second amendment.

Then, two years later in McDonald v. Chicago, the court determined that Illinois' 28-year-old ban on handgun ownership also violated second amendment rights and therefore extended the earlier decision in Heller to the states as well. In effect, these rulings deemed that the constitution "gives individuals equal or greater power than states on the issue of possession of certain firearms for self-protection."

And then on Dec. 11, three days before this latest tragedy, the federal Appeals Court, adhering to the two Supreme Court rulings, ruled 2-1 against Illinois' attempt to ban concealed weapons. It is likely Illinois will appeal this decision and it will be sent to the Supreme Court with the predictable results.

In these controversial decisions, the judges on both sides of the dispute used history to bolster their arguments. "It cannot be doubted that the right to bear arms was regarded as a substantive guarantee, not a prohibition that could be ignored so long as states legislated in an even-handed manner," wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the majority in June 2010. …

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