A whole lot of big news events this week that I feel like I ought to weigh in on, although Shane has covered some of them previously.
As Shane previously pointed out, the Supreme Court this week, in District of Columbia v. Heiler, ruled the DC handgun ban to be unconstitutional. As always, for your appropriately snarky response to any legal issue, the authority is Sir Charles at Cogitamus, and he does not disappoint. There are, to me, a few key points, most of which are regurgitations of Sir Charles’ musings, but I’m going to make them anyhow.
Firstly, and this one is important, next time you hear a conservative talk about ‘judicial activism’ or ‘activist judges’, remember that this is just conservative double-secret-decoder-ring talk for ‘judges making decisions that conservatives aren’t happy about.’ The legal term is stare decisis, translated as ‘to stand by things decided.’ Basically, it’s the basis for the concept of legal precedent. The idea is, once a judge has made a previous decision, it ought to be respected.
But, in U.S. v. Miller, the Supreme Court already decided that the right to bear arms is not absolute. A decision that, according to strict constructionists, ought to be respected unless, well, you really really disagree with it, in which case you can overrule it. Because, you know, as Scalia bloviated, handguns are better for home defense because it’s easier to hold one while dialing the phone (no, really – he wrote that!), and the framers of the Constitution, using their superduper powers of perfect foresight, anticipated the creation of handguns, and their use for home defense, and that’s why they wrote the Second Amendment so damn unclearly, just in case.
Anyhow. As a purely policy question, I’m not really strongly against the right to own a gun, so long as you are trained in safe gun usage, and you keep it in such a state where it can’t possibly cause unintentional damage (locked, unloaded, etc.) On the other hand, I really wonder how many crimes are prevented by private guns, vs. how many unintentional deaths there are due to private guns. Not to mention, a life lost, even that of a criminal, is more serious than some stolen stuff.
That’s an impossible answer to know for sure, because maybe, in an area with lots of guns, there is serious deterrent effect. I can’t say that that argument is entirely impossible, I can only say, like Ezra does, that I have severe doubts about the actual ability of a relatively poorly-trained homeowner to keep their head and do all the right things when trying to use a handgun to disrupt a burglary attempt. I think of myself as pretty level-headed, but in the wake of my home getting burgled a year back, whenever I was woken in the night by the house creaking, I was not in a fully-functional state of mind, to say the least, and am very glad there was no firearm in the house for me to do something ridiculous with. If there were small children in the house, say? Good lord, no.
On the other hand, America’s history, especially in rural areas, has a lot of ties with hunting, and gun ownership. Trying to rescind that history by fiat simply won’t work.
So, I guess, on a policy side, I come out on the ‘different strokes for different folks’ side of things, which is to say that I believe that cities and highly urban states ought to be able to ban, or at least strongly regulate, gun ownership, while rural areas should be able to keep their systems less-regulated. However, as usual, conservative icon Antonin Scalie has shown himself to be a strong supported of states’ rights, unless the rights on question are rights personally believes should be absolute, in which case the states (and cities) should have no say at all.