High court should keep gun-control laws intact
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to review an appeal of a decision that struck down the District of Columbia's gun law.
Courts have ruled for more than a century that the Second Amendment allows reasonable restrictions on possession of firearms, but the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia has ruled that such measures are unconstitutional. Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett has properly joined three other state attorneys general in asking that the Supreme Court overturn the ruling to maintain public safety.
The peculiarly punctuated Second Amendment 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." The Hawaii Constitution includes a similar provision, kindly dropping the first and last commas. Hawaii law also forbids ownership of assault pistols, automatic firearms and short-barrel shotguns.
In 1939, the Supreme Court agreed with decades of decisions by state courts that a sawed-off shotgun was not among the "arms" the Founding Fathers had in mind. The constitutional right to possession of a gun, that court ruled, should have "some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia."
A lawsuit financed by wealthy libertarian Robert A. Levy argues that a security guard he found as a plaintiff should be licensed to keep at home the handgun he uses on his job. In a 2-1 decision, the D.C. appeals panel ruled that the Second Amendment's "right in question is individual," not tied to militia membership.
The dangerous ruling does not directly affect Hawaii and other states but, if it stands, will "cast a cloud over all federal and state laws restricting access to firearms," Bennett and attorneys general from Maryland, Illinois and New York contend in a brief submitted to the high court.
Gun advocates have long claimed a constitutional right to be armed, and the case could determine just how far to the right the Supreme Court has become. In his confirmation hearing, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. testified that the 1939 ruling "side-stepped the issue," leaving gun controls "very open" to question. Justice Clarence Thomas opined 10 years ago that "perhaps, at some future date, the court will have the opportunity" to review the Second Amendment right.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide later this month whether to consider the D.C. ruling. Refusing to do so would send a wrong signal, although not binding, through the state and federal court systems. It needs to be overturned.
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