Thursday, June 26, 2008

When A Win Is Not A Win

As just about every sentient being expected it would, the U.S. Supreme Court today held in District of Columbia v. Heller, 07-2901, that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to possess a firearm. Given that this amendment was tucked in, oh, the Bill of Rights, this should really not be a controversial conclusion. It's slightly amazing that this was even an issue.

The opinion, on page 57, contains a massive qualification, however. The Court says that "Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." And then, in the next paragraph on page 58, the Court says that the Second Amendment doesn't protect possession of "dangerous or unusual weapons." Justice Scalia's example of a "dangerous or unusual weapon"? An M-16. Wow.

Thus the title of this post: When a win is not a win. The Court today may have struck down the DC handgun ban, but it signaled that it would uphold many of the laws that gun enthusiasts have claimed violate their Second Amendment rights. So if the celebration seems muted today, this post should help explain why.

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