The Supreme Court of the United States has finally settled one of the most contentious constitutional questions in decades. Do individual citizens have the right to keep and bear arms in the Second Amendment or can governments disarm their people? In one of the few cases that wasn't depressing to read, the Supreme Court ruled individuals can keep weapons for self-defense by a 5-4 vote.
Justice Scalia, in writing the opinion, struck down the District of Columbia's total ban on handguns and the "trigger lock" requirement. The opinion strongly indicated that while the case at hand was the District, it would be applied to the states as well. Reasonable regulation can still exist, as well as banning firearm ownership by felons, the mentally ill and children.
The case at hand involved an armed security guard, Dick Heller, who applied (and was rejected) to have a weapon in his home for self-defense. The District had a total ban of handguns without a special permit reserved for mostly law enforcement. Additionally, the court ruled that trigger locks are unconstitutional because it greatly hinders self-defense. Attackers tend not to wait while you get your keys and then unlock your gun.
Not so surprisingly, these draconian restrictions haven't seemed to make much of a difference in the crime rate in one of the most crime-ridden cities in America. Critics say the ruling will make Americans less safe, but that's hard to envision when criminals are fully armed and citizens are unarmed. A look over to Britain shows how bad crime gets when people are prevented from defending themselves.
Scalia was clear that, on certain classes of people (i.e. felons), registration and limits on owning guns is still sound. This makes sense. Gun control advocates have a long-standing routine of saying that citizens cannot be trusted with guns. In short, they believe policy should be based on an irrebuttable presumption of guilt. Because some imagined person out there is too dangerous to have a gun, no one can. This line of argumentation is, quite frankly, un-American.
As far as the grammatical constructs that were attempted to indicate that an individual did not have the right to bear arms, Scalia was in rare form. Most of his opinion discussed Breyer's and Stevens' dissents and the rhetorical contortions they attempted. Scalia was unyielding in his criticism, and relied heavily on briefs filed by linguists for this case. Scalia may have still been cranky from the death penalty case.
Registration, on the other hand, provides a process by which the unfit can be restricted and citizens who want to protect themselves and their families can do so. The court didn't lay down a rule to test the constitutionality of certain gun control provisions, but it is unlikely that a "wild west" scenario will develop anytime soon. The Michigan Militia types might not be happy because the Court focused on the right to keep arms for self-defense and hunting, not to form a militia to overthrow the government. Likely, restrictions on heavy arms will still stand.
The case heralds the end of the current Supreme Court term which resolved a number of contentious cases, many in a ham-handed way. For instance, in banning the death penalty for those who brutally rape minors, the majority opinion rested more on sophistry than any real legal analysis (and this is from someone who is against the death penalty). The gun rights case will put the issue up front in the 2008 election, and throws a bone to those who believe the Constitution should be read as it is written.