2008-07-04 / Editorial/Opinion

From the Editor's Desk

An Open Invitation To Antonin Scalia
Commentary By Howard Schwach

I would like to invite Antonin Scalia to come to Rockaway and visit the more scenic and dangerous hotspots on the peninsula - Redfern, Hammels, Ocean Bay.

Scalia, a justice of the United States Supreme Court, is certainly not going to take me up on my offer, but he really doesn't have to. There are plenty of places in Washington, D.C., where he works, that he could go and get the same experience.

Should he come, however, I would like him to meet with the parents of Brandon Bathea or Tyrese Johnson. I would like him to speak with the detectives from the 101 Precinct or the 100 Precinct.

I would like him to see what the decision he took part in last week really means.

Scalia wrote the majority opinion for the five justices who overturned the Washington, D.C. gun law in a case entitled "District of Columbia v. Heller."

The vote was 5 to 4, not exactly a rousing unanimous decision that such an important, seminal case might have demanded.

In the decision, the court ruled that Americans have the right to own guns for self-defense in the home and hunting. The decision has been hailed by gun-rights organizations and castigated by gun control groups.

The ruling struck down the District of Columbia's 32-year-old gun ban on handguns as incompatible with the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The court has not conclusively interpreted the Second Amendment since its ratification in 1791.

The meaning of the amendment has been debated for more than 200 years and, while the new decision made a bold statement, there are still lots of questions remaining that will have to be settled by later decisions, if ever.

The basic issue is whether the amendment protects an individual's right to own a gun as opposed to that right being somehow tied to service in a state militia.

That's because of the way the Founding Father's worded the amendment.

"A 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."

Twenty-five words, hundreds of interpretations.

Does that mean that only those involved in a militia can keep guns? Does it mean that everybody has the right to keep arms in case they are needed for a militia in time of peril?

What did the Founding Fathers mean?

Since no written minutes of the meetings were held, and only a few of those who were present spoke out after the fact, nobody is sure, but everybody "knows."

Scalia probably has the last say, at least for now.

He wrote that an individual's right to own guns is supported by "the history both before and after the Second Amendment was adopted."

He said that "The Constitution does not permit the absolute prohibition on handguns held and used for selfdefense in the home."

The court also struck down the city's requirement that firearms be equipped with trigger guards or kept separate from the ammunition, but left intact the requirement for licensing handguns.

That provision should allow New York City to keep its licensing provisions intact, although they are the strictest in the nation.

The four other justices who joined Scalia in overturning the gun laws were Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

Some of the four justices who voted to keep the gun laws intact filed dissents from the majority opinion penned by Scalia.

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the minority, said, "The majority would have us believe that 200 years go, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian weapons."

Justice Stephen Breyer, in a separate dissent, said, "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."

Other dissenters were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and David Souter.

Surprisingly, Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the decision in a statement he released shortly after the court's decision.

"From the beginning, we have said that fighting illegal guns has nothing to do with the Second Amendment," Bloomberg said. Today's decision by the Supreme Court upholding those rights will benefit our coalition by finally putting to rest the ideological debates that that have too long obscured the obvious fact: criminals, who have no right to purchase or possess guns, nevertheless have easy access to them."

The New York State chapter of the National Rifle Association (NRA) hailed the decision.

"This is a tremendous victory for all Americans," a spokesperson said. "It proves that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm and to use that firearm for all lawful purposes, including selfdefense."

Senator Diane Feinstein, a leading gun control advocate, however, criticized the ruling.

"I believe that the people of this great country will be less safe because of it," she said.

Even the majority agreed, however, that criminals and people with mental illness should not have access to weapons.

Personally, I think there are already too many guns in circulation and anything the government does to make it easier to get a gun is dead wrong, and I don't use the word "dead" lightly. I have read the literature, "Miracle at Philadelphia" and the diaries of Jefferson and the others who were there.

I believe that the Second Amendment comes out of the experience they all went through in 1776 when the Minutemen, the civilian militia, stepped up and saved our new nation.

Today, however, with a professional military, the militia has become the National Guard, and there is no longer any reason for those not involved with the military of with law enforcement to carry weapons.

More on gun control in this space next week.

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Howard The only people who are affected by gun laws are the law abiding citizens. What criminal will say "hey wait a second it is against the law for me to have a gun". The states that have passed a concealed wepons law have had crime drop. Lets be armed, trained and ready to defend first, ourselves and then America


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