I was briefly elated, then deflated, when I heard that the United States Supreme Court had struck down the District of Columbia’s handgun ban. Certainly, most people of my ideological persuasion were thrilled with the ruling and I was certainly much happier than I would have been had the Supremes ruled the other way.
What depressed my spirits was the notion that the Supreme Court or anybody else has the power to decide what rights I will be permitted to exercise. It’s written there in the Constitution for crying out loud. Why is it the business of the court to decide whether or not I’ll be permitted to keep that right?
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that when the Constitution was being drafted, many opposed the Bill of Rights because it was considered superfluous. The Constitution carefully enumerated and limited the powers of government, and nowhere in the document was the government empowered to control our speech, infringe upon our rights to keep and bear arms, toss us into jail without due process or to seize our property. Opponents argued that future interpreters might conclude that the Bill of Rights was the sum total of all our rights.
Wow. Would they be surprised if they saw today’s America. We have to fight to simply hold onto even those few rights in the Bill of Rights. And we’re losing.
Four years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that we no longer have a Fifth Amendment right to our property. In the Kelo decision, the court decided that local governments can take your property away from you if they’d prefer that someone else owned it. And before that, the courts decided that environmental law trumps property rights.
Shortly after the Kelo decision, the Supreme Court decided that the government had the authority to regulate political free speech under the guise of campaign finance reform. The Supreme Court has now given us the perverse situation in which the government can muzzle political debate but not pornography. Somehow, I don’t think that was the original intent of the Constitution’s authors.
When I read the outpouring of joy at Thursday’s court ruling, I was reminded of the scene from George Orwell’s 1984 in which the people are thrilled when the government allows the people a tiny increase in their chocolate ration, after that same tyranny had just slashed the ration by a much larger portion. So it is with our rights. We are supposed to be grateful that the Supremes or the Congress did no crush any more of our freedoms than they already have. I find it distressing that so many feel relieved because the Supreme Court did not declare part of the Constitution unconstitutional. And of course, both the court and the Congress have given me many reasons to fear for my freedoms.
It’s a strange world we live in when our courts grant rights to terrorists that have never been recognized for prisoners of war, while limiting the rights of citizens.
I credit Stephen Breyer for writing a dissenting opinion that clearly described the amorphous, unlimited power that he thinks the judicial branch should wield. While acknowledging that the Second Amendment granted an individual right, he argued the right should be dribbled out to the people on a case-by-case basis. He specifically addressed the District of Columbia’s case and argued that in such a high crime area, local governments should have the power to limit gun ownership: “In my view, there simply is no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas.” Actually, it’s in high crime areas where the citizens need the right to own guns for self-defense.
In the other dissenting opinion, John Paul Stevens tried to preserve gun control with Humpty Dumpty-like manipulation of the language by assigning definitions to words that are not found in any dictionary of any time.
Recalling Lewis Carol’s masterpiece, Through the Looking Glass: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“'The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master - that's all.”
If Barack He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Middle-Named Obama wins the presidential election, he’ll undoubtedly be looking for a Humpty Dumpty to fill the next vacancy, maybe someone who’ll debate what “the meaning of is, is.”
Labels: Rights, Second Amendment, Supreme Court