Headlines, North America

US: Gun Control Groups Divided on High Court Ruling

Eli Clifton

WASHINGTON, Jun 28 2010 (IPS) - Monday’s Supreme Court decision on the extent to which the Second Amendment of the U.S. constitution guarantees the universal right to own a gun is being welcomed by organisations on both sides of the debate, even as some warn that the ruling could open a floodgate of legislation challenging gun laws in different states.

“It is clear that the Framers [of the constitution]…counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty,” wrote Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

The Supreme Court decided in the case of McDonald v. Chicago that Chicago’s 28-year-old ban on handguns was unconstitutional.

“We’re pleasantly surprised with how restrained the decision is,” Ladd Everitt, director of communications at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told IPS. “This decision is talking specifically about laws which would prohibit someone from owning handguns in the home. I don’t know of many jurisdictions which have this type of law on the books.”

“The McDonald ruling does not imperil every gun law in America,” he said.

The Supreme Court’s five-to-four decision, which came on the last day of its term, ruled that the Second Amendment provides all citizens a right to bear arms but leaves the door open for certain local and state laws which restrict who can possess handguns and where handguns can be taken.

“We repeat those assurances here,” Alito wrote. “Despite municipal respondents’ doomsday proclamations, [the decision] does not imperil every law regulating firearms.”

Also voting in the majority were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

Justices Stephen G. Breyer, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor cast the four dissenting votes.

“Given the empirical and local value-laden nature of the questions that lie at the heart of the issue, why, in a nation whose constitution foresees democratic decision- making, is it so fundamental a matter as to require taking that power from the people?” Breyer wrote. “What is it here that the people did not know? What is it that a judge knows better?”

Stevens read his own dissent from the bench, in which he took issue with the majority’s decision that gun ownership is a fundamental right.

The decision does not explicitly strike down Chicago’s handgun ban but it does move the ban’s opponents one step closer to overturning the law.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), the biggest pro-gun rights organisation in the U.S., and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, an organisation which has called for stricter legislation to prevent gun violence, both celebrated the ruling.

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre welcomed the decision, saying, “The Supreme Court said what a majority of the American public believes. The people who wrote the Second Amendment said it was an individual right, and the Court has now confirmed what our founding fathers wrote and intended. The Second Amendment – as every citizen’s constitutional right – is now a real part of American Constitutional law.”

But LaPierre also warned that the court’s decision could result in a “practical defeat by activist judges, defiant city councils, or cynical politicians who seek to pervert, reverse, or nullify the Supreme Court’s McDonald decision through Byzantine labyrinths of restrictions and regulations that render the Second Amendment inaccessible, unaffordable, or otherwise impossible to experience in a practical, reasonable way.”

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign, also responded favourably to the decision.

“We are pleased that the Court reaffirmed its language in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment individual right to possess guns in the home for self- defence does not prevent our elected representatives from enacting common-sense gun laws to protect our communities from gun violence,” wrote Helmke.

He continued, “We are reassured that the Court has rejected, once again, the gun lobby argument that its ‘any gun, for anybody, anywhere’ agenda is protected by the Constitution. The Court again recognized that the Second Amendment allows for reasonable restrictions on firearms, including who can have them and under what conditions, where they can be taken, and what types of firearms are available.”

Helmke also emphasised that the ruling would not prevent the city of Chicago from amending its gun laws to comply with the ruling and continue “to have strong, comprehensive and Constitutional gun laws”.

While the Brady Campaign downplayed the effects of the court’s ruling on gun regulation, the Violence Policy Center (VPC), a group which addresses gun violence as a public health issue, saw the Supreme Court’s decision as a major blow to their attempts to curb handgun violence.

“People will die because of this decision. It is a victory only for the gun lobby and America’s fading firearms industry. The inevitable tide of frivolous pro-gun litigation destined to follow will force cities, counties, and states to expend scarce resources to defend longstanding, effective public safety laws,” said a statement from the VPC.

The statement continued, “The gun lobby and gunmakers are seeking nothing less than the complete dismantling of our nation’s gun laws in a cynical effort to try and stem the long-term drop in gun ownership and save the dwindling gun industry. The 30,000 lives claimed annually by gun violence and the families destroyed in the wake of mass shootings and murder-suicides mean little to the gun lobby and the firearm manufacturers it protects.”

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags