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The 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: “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.”
Ratified in 1791, there are few amendments that can elevate emotion and add heat to debate among lawmakers, neighbors and even family members like this one. In a precedent setting 5-4 decision last Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the 2nd Amendment guarantees the right to possess a firearm and to use it for lawful purposes such as self-defense, and that it is an individual right and not one extended only to citizens collectively organized for service within a state militia.
The decision struck down the total ban on handgun ownership in Washington, D.C., along with its requirement for storing long guns with trigger locks engaged or otherwise disassembled, and defines such sweeping prohibitions as unconstitutional. It also sets the stage for lawsuits in cities across the country with similar gun-control prohibitions.
Justice Antonin Scalia, author of the opinion for the majority, should be applauded for his systematic approach in pealing back and defining both prefatory and operative clauses of the amendment. Justices in the majority appropriately interpreted the spirit of the amendment as one that guarantees the individual right to have firearms for personal defense. The opinion establishes that any restriction or requirement that would make a lawful firearm useless for the core purpose of self-defense – such as trigger lock binding or disassembled storage requirements — also are unconstitutional.
While the ruling is a victory for pro-gun citizens who wish to lawfully possess firearms, it isn’t necessarily a defeat for gun-control citizens, either.
The ruling was not all encompassing in its scope. It stopped short of establishing individual gun ownership rights as absolute, also appropriately so. Prohibitions against the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill; laws prohibiting the carrying of firearms in sensitive areas like schools or government facilities; “cooling off” laws that establish conditions on the sale of firearms are not deemed unconstitutional by this decision.
The ruling also leaves to question the specific nature of gun ownership rights – specifically, whether it is a “fundamental right” where the court traditionally has steered clear of allowing for governments to impose strict regulations in order to protect the public. The opinion of the majority left this question unanswered.
Though last Thursday’s decision by our nation’s highest court regarding the 2nd Amendment won’t end the debate, it does provide an appropriate, affirming and much-needed interpretation of the intention of our nation’s forefathers as it pertains to an individual’s right to personal protection.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.