I often wonder if Antonin Scalia might not be more comfortable in another century, past not future, one not touched by the miseries and dangers of urbanization. I certainly think we would be if he were.
Maybe most fittingly he would do well in the 18th century where a firearm larger than a one-shot pistol and a long rifle could not be imagined, especially by those who were drafting a plan for the rest of us to live by forever and where citizen soldiers in local militias were the national defense.
Perhaps better yet if the good justice were somehow transported backwards in reality and just not in philosophy, he might somehow understand what brought about the Second Amendment of the Constitution and what went into the thinking that created it. Being privy to the future, then he could tell the framers about the development of destructive armament that would be available 200 years later and warn about the dangers this would pose for the 80 percent of modern Americans who live in metropolitan sprawl. Made aware of the potential horrors they might have written clearer language or dumped the idea altogether.
But since that is impossible, Scalia and his philosophical teammates had to roll their own when it comes to ruling on the right to bear arms. As everyone knows by now they did so by ignoring the carnage outside their cloistered chambers and by labeling as irrelevant that clause of the amendment that mentions the necessity of maintaining militias. This left them free to conclude that what George Washington and company really meant was that everyone, except criminals and certifiable crazies, can own almost any kind of legitimately bought weapon of mass destruction. The right to own automatic weapons still may be in dispute although the experts tell us converting a semi-automatic to one that is fully so is quite easy.
Within hours of the court’s 5-4 decision to disregard the threat to civilization already caused by the 300 million firearms in this country, it was veritably raining lawsuits to overturn every serious gun control restriction in the land. The furies have been loosed. The National Rifle Association, the leading spokesman for the gun industry and the most potent lobby in the city, has won. All those millions of dollars poured into propaganda and political campaigns and disparaging law enforcement efforts to protect the citizenry from gun registration have paid off handsomely and most likely will continue to do so.
In the District of Columbia whose strict law was the basis for this horrendous ruling, one can now shoot oneself without having to face a gun charge at least if one’s aim is bad. That is just to mention the fact that a huge number of gun deaths are suicides and very few from protecting hearth and home from some intruder, who in many instances uses the victim’s own weapon on the victim, adding insult to injury.
The ruling, of course, is not surprising. Those trying to bring some sanity to the national love affair with guns had anticipated a negative result, but probably not one of this magnitude. For what the court did, albeit narrowly, was to decide for good or until the panel’s philosophical make up is changed to come down on the side of individual rights not collective rights. Most disturbing was Scalia’s reasoning that residents of this city — and before long probably every other city — can now hold off a bandit with a gun in one hand while dialing the police with another.
Can it be possible that this guy watches too much television? Nah. No one would accuse him of such an anti-intellectual pursuit. Besides, if he did he would be aware of the daily reports of murder and mayhem in which firearms played a significant role, which he obviously is not.
Now the badly outgunned majority of Americans who are opposed to the wholesale traffic of nine millimeter pistols to AK-47s will have their work cut out for them, trying to stave off the gun lobby’s assaults so that some semblance of control remains. The ruling suddenly vaulted the Supreme Court into a leading issue in the presidential campaign with supporters of presumptive Democrat nominee Barack Obama warning that if the Republican John McCain wins, the next appointments would give conservatives control for decades since the likely retirees are on the liberal side.
All this is sort of back to the future. In the meantime, the number of guns in the hands of Americans increases by about six million a year.
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)