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More people will die from gunshots because of the decision of five right-wing Supreme Court Justices to overturn the District of Columbia law governing handgun possession in the District.
To reach their ruling, the gang of five had to distort the clear meaning of the words of the Second Amendment and reinvent the intent of the Founders. They had to trample the wishes of popularly elected local government, and throw out a 32 year old law. They had to ignore sixty-nine years of Supreme Court precedents holding that the Second Amendment applied, as its words say, to the rights of states to maintain a militia. And they had to decide to do this despite the fact that they could only muster a bare one vote majority—the five votes of conservative justices for the opinion.
In Bush v. Gore, the indefensible decision that shut down a popular vote count in Florida in the presidential race and effectively appointed Bush president, a similar gang of five revealed how partisan they were prepared to be. In the DC handgun case, they demonstrated the extent to which they are activist, conservative ideologues, quite willing to legislate from the bench.
This disgrace gives lie to John McCain’s rhetoric. McCain says that he doesn’t want judges who legislate from the bench, and that he will appoint judges in the tradition of Scalia and Alito. That is an oxymoron. It’s like saying you stand firmly for night against day, and for day against night, for up against down and for down against up. Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Roberts are right-wing activist judges, willing to abandon judicial restraint to enforce the right-wing’s political agenda. When McCain pledges to appoint more judges like them, he is promising to appoint a majority of the Supreme Court that will enforce a right-wing agenda that increasing majorities of Americans reject.
In order to win the fifth vote—that of Justice Kennedy—Justice Antonin Scalia had to accept that the Second Amendment allows sensible gun control, but bans “absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense of the home.” This backdoor invention of a right to privacy for guns by a justice who rails against the right to privacy for humans will generate a flood of new cases, as the gun nut lobby tries to overturn gun control laws across the country.
Here’s the reality that the gang of five simply ignored. Cities like Chicago desperately need strong gun control laws. Guns are not made in Chicago; the big gun stores are all in the suburbs. Chicago needs laws that require extensive background checks of potential buyers, and that limit the number of guns anyone can buy. Straw buyers purchase guns by the dozens and then resell them to gangs. There is no possible reason a gun owner needs to buy more than one gun a month.
Similarly, Chicago and other cities need limits on the kind of weapons sold. President Bush allowed the ban on assault weapons to expire, at behest of the NRA. But assault weapons aren’t necessary to defend your home. They aren’t useful in hunting deer or shooting doves. They are killer guns, putting police at risk. And worse, in an age of terror, they provide the capacity to shoot down airplanes, or shoot up shopping centers.
America is the most heavily armed society in the world. And has the highest rates of homicide from guns in the world. Guns are more likely to be used to kill a relative than a robber. The decision of the gang of five is a boon to the gun industry and a nightmare to neighborhoods across America.
Gun control is obviously a very heated political issue. Obviously the best way to resolve it is in the political process. That way, rural communities can encourage gun ownership; urban areas can ban threatening handguns. The debate can rage at the state level until resolved. Instead the gang of five has decided its opinion, barely a majority, weighs more.
This should spark a revival of handgun control movements across the country. Mayors and Governors should take the lead in defending gun control, and demanding better laws. Let the courts be flooded with cases generated by their own folly.
What is clear now is that the right-wing majority in the Court has lost all claim to judicial temperament. The gang of five is simply part of the right, not part of the tradition of American rights.
Reverend Jackson n can be contacted by e-mail at