By the narrowest margin, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the Constitution guarantees all Americans the right to bear arms, fortifying what many have correctly believed since ratification of the Second Amendment in 1791.
One dissenter in the 5-4 decision, Justice John Paul Stevens, predicted a “tsunami of legal uncertainty” from court challenges to clarify what restrictions still can be imposed.
He may be right. But at least now the legal presumption is Americans have a right to bear arms, which clearly was what the drafters of the Bill of Rights intended.
“Self-defense is a basic right, recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present day,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito, who was joined in the majority opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonio Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
The ruling was not absolute. As in its 2008 ruling striking down a District of Columbia handgun ban, the court noted there is not “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Justice Alito emphasized that despite “doomsday proclamations,” Monday’s ruling “does not imperil every law regulating firearms.”
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre looked ahead: “The NRA has to make sure this is not a hollow victory that is nullified by a byzantine labyrinth of regulations and laws.”
The court’s ruling for the first time elevated the Second Amendment provision to the status of a fundamental right states can’t abridge, the Wall Street Journal reported. Localities enacting gun restriction laws often rely on a states’ rights argument, maintaining that the Second Amendment applies only to the federal government.
But the Supreme Court said Monday the right to bear arms is among constitutional rights considered fundamental American principles of liberty, which override state laws, the Journal reported. The case decided Monday, McDonald v. Chicago, involved a restrictive handgun law in that city similar to the District of Columbia law previously struck down.
The Second Amendment provides that: “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.” We find the meaning and intent crystal clear. Now the highest court in the land officially agrees.
We also believe the nation’s founders would find Justice Stevens wrong in his contention that the ruling creates “a new liberty right.” They had just come through a bloody revolutionary war sparked when British troops were sent to Lexington and Concord to confiscate American’s firearms.
“The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote. “The beauty of the second amendment,” Jefferson also noted, “is that it will not be needed until they try to take it.”