Inside the gun control debate

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that extends the 2nd amendment to the states is 214 pages of a judicial pie fight.


Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that extends the Second Amendment to the states is 214 pages of a judicial pie fight. It makes for mighty fine reading for judicial wonks. The decision orders a federal appeals court to reconsider a ruling that upheld a Chicago gun control ordinance.

The full decision is here, but here are some of the juicy parts, many of which framed the question in a racial context:

Justice Samuel Alito:

The legislators noted that the number of Chicago homicide victims during the current year equaled the number of American soldiers killed dur-ing that same period in Afghanistan and Iraq and that80% of the Chicago victims were black.32 Amici supporting incorporation of the right to keep and bear arms contend that the right is especially important for women and members of other groups that may be especially vulnerable to violent crime.33 If, as petitioners believe, their safety and the safety of other law-abiding members of the community would be enhanced by the possession of hand-guns in the home for self-defense, then the Second Amendment right protects the rights of minorities and other residents of high-crime areas whose needs are not being met by elected public officials.

Justice John Paul Stevens:

The experience of other advanced democracies, including those that share our British heritage, undercuts the notion that an expansive right to keep and bear arms is intrinsic to ordered liberty. Many of these countries place restrictions on the possession, use, and carriage of firearms far more onerous than the restrictions found in this Nation That the United States is an international outlier in the permissiveness of its approach to guns does not suggest that our laws are bad laws. It does suggest that this Court may not need to assume responsibility for making our laws still more permissive.

Justice Antonin Scalia:

When it comes to guns, JUSTICE STEVENS explains, our Nation is already an outlier among “advanced democracies”; not even our “oldest allies” protect as robust a right as we do,and we should not widen the gap. Ibid. Never mind that he explains neither which countries qualify as “advanced democracies” nor why others are irrelevant. For there is an even clearer indication that this criterion lets judgespick which rights States must respect and those they can ignore:

Justice Clarence Thomas:

The use of firearms for self-defense was often the only way black citizens could protect themselves from mob violence. As Eli Cooper, one target of such violence, is said to have explained, “‘[t]he Negro has been run over for fifty years, but it must stop now, and pistols and shotguns are the only weapons to stop a mob.’”

Justice Stephen Breyer:

I do not believe history is the only pertinent consideration. Nor would I read history as broadly as the majority does. In particular, since we hereare evaluating a more particular right–namely, the rightto bear arms for purposes of private self-defense general historical references to the “right to keep and bear arms” are not always helpful. Depending upon context, early historical sources may mean to refer to a militia-based right–a matter of considerable importance 200 years ago–which has, as the majority points out, “largely faded as a popular concern.” There is no reason to believe that matters of such little contemporary importance should play a significant role in answering the incorporation question.

  • David

    By using race as an arguement they seem to be coupling gun ownership, which has been a legal right, with the human right of self preservation which is often though of as a natural right.

    Let’s assume that in fact owning a gun can be considered part of human rights and possibly a natural right.

    By logical extension, couldn’t these arguements now be used to reverse laws that remove a felons “right” to possess a gun?

    I’ve always been skeptical of laws that remove a persons rights. (gun ownership, voting, etc)

  • BJ

    Pretty lite on comments – week before holiday I would guess is the cause.