The Supreme Court ruled that state and local statutes do not supersede federal rights enumerated in the Second Amendment of the Constitution on the subject of gun ownership. The case instigating the court’s 5-4 ruling was McDonald vs. the City of Chicago in which a suburb, Oak Park, Illinois, banned the possession of handguns by private citizens.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said, “”It is clear that the Framers . . . counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty.”
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a masterful opinion in which he cited history, precedence and long-standing legal opinion to recount the established rights of former slaves and freemen following the Civil War.
As Frederick Douglass explained … “the Legislatures of the South can take from him the right to keep and bear arms, as they can—they would not allow a negro to walk with a cane where I came from, they would not allow five of them to assemble together. Notwithstanding the provision in the Constitution of the United States, that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged,” Douglass explained that “the black man has never had the right either to keep or bear arms.” Absent a constitutional amendment to enforce that right against the States, he insisted that “the work of the Abolitionists [was] is not finished.”
Thomas’ point being that selective application of Constitutional rights, either to a racial group or a city or state population is contrary to the intent of the Framers. With slaves and freemen, denial of the right to bear arms was based on fear of retaliation by southern states and, more implied than explicit, it also put blacks on the same plane of citizens’ rights as whites. For whatever intent, Oak Park, Illinois was perpetuating the same selective denial of rights to its population.
Justice John Paul Stevens, one of four justices voting in the minority said the McDonald decision “could prove far more destructive – quite literally – to our nation’s communities and to our constitutional structure.”
Under no circumstances can I compete with Justice Stevens’ credentials on constitutional law, but what comes to my mind when I read that line from his dissent is a contrast between rights and how people practice those rights.
Let’s take his argument to another historic constitutional challenge; Roe v. Wade. If, indeed, abortion is allowed (or tolerated) by the Constitution, does (or did) Justice Stevens or any of his liberal colleagues on the Court have reservations that allowing the procedure “could prove far more destructive to our nation’s communities and to our constitutional structure?”
It does not seem to me in the purview of the Supreme Court to consider how a right will be practiced, but rather that said right exists. Justice Stevens seems more concerned that people “bearing arms” will abuse that privilege to the detriment of society – and he’s right. People will use “arms,” be they guns, blades, blunt instruments, chemicals, electronic devices or uterine currettes for nefarious, even murderous purposes. But that does not diminish the fundamental constitutional right to bear arms.
Laws may be established to mitigate destructive behaviors and abuse of rights, but denying citizens of the United States Constitutionally mandated liberties cannot be – and was not – allowed.