The truth about the 2nd Amendment

West facade of the Supreme Court building in Washington.


by Tom Regan

It’s a pretty common refrain you’ll hear from gun rights activists: The 2nd Amendment gives them the right to own whatever kind of gun they desire and any attempts to place restrictions on ownership, or the size of ammunition clips, or how long you have to wait before you buy a gun, or any kind of a restriction at all, are unconstitutional.

It’s a go-to argument for the guns right movement, and one that is echoed by members of Congress and their pay master, the National Rifle Association. It’s too bad it’s completely bogus.

To get the real story, you need to go back to two Supreme Court cases: Heller vs DC in 2008 and MacDonald vs City of Chicago in 2010.

In 2008, DC had some pretty restrictive laws about handguns, the use of gun locks and keeping them in your home. A group of citizens, of whom Mr. Heller was one, decided to sue the city of DC, arguing that these restrictive bans were anti-2nd Amendment and therefore unconstitutional.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where in 5-4 ruling, the Court held the 2nd Amendment protects an individual’s right to “ possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” But since DC was a federal district, the question was whether the 2nd Amendment protections outlined in Heller were guaranteed under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. This was decided in another 5-4 case, the above-mentioned MacDonald vs The City of Chicago. This ruling “incorporated” the 2nd Amendment.

At first glance, this would seem to back the claims of gun right activists that any restrictions placed on the 2nd Amendment are unconstitutional. Again, this is completely bogus.

In his majority decision in Heller vs DC, Justice Antonin Scalia also wrote that “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited [my emphasis]. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.” (Wikipedia summary)

More important, in the MacDonald vs The City of Chicago, the Supreme Court left this language intact.

Which brings us to today. In fact, it brings us to just yesterday. The Supreme Court passed on taking up a case challenging California’s mandatory 10-day waiting period to buy a gun, even if you had previously purchased a gun. It was the latest case of the Court refusing to hear a challenge to a law restricting gun rights.

These include the refusal in 2015 to hear a challenge to an ordinance in Highland Park, Ill. that banned the sale and possession of semi-automatic rifles. Eight other states have similar laws, none of which the Court has overturned.

In June of 2017, the Court did not take up a challenge to the constitutionality of a San Dingo ordinance about concealed weapons. The 9th Circuit Court ruled that “the 2nd Amendment does not preserve or protect a right of a member of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public.”

In a February 2017 ruling, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, a much more conservative court, ruled en banc, 10-4, that Maryland’s ban on 45 different kinds of semi-automatic weapons and its limit of 10 rounds on gun magazines were both constitutional and that the 2nd Amendment doesn’t protect “weapons of war.” In November of 2017, the Supreme Court declined to heat the case.

What this tells us is that as far as the current justices are concerned, the matter is settled. It is lawful for people to keep a handgun or a shotgun in their homes for self-protection. The 2nd Amendment protects this right. But states are free to implement restrictions on “weapons of war” or on other aspects of gun rights.

If anyone tells you differently or you hear a politician or NRA official say different, it’s just B.S. Nothing more and nothing less.

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Canada prepares for ‘war’ with US

By Tom Regan

Is Canada going to war with the United States? No, not really. But you might say that some elements of the Canadian government are being put on a political ‘wartime’ footing.

Montana/Canada USA Border boundary crossing north of Eureka on Highway 93. (Photo by Spend a Day Touring LLC, Creative Commons)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made some questionable decisions lately, including the sudden decision to drop the plan to change the way Canadians elect members of Parliament. While there are some good reasons for his decision to do so, his way of dealing with the matter shows that over a year into his term he still having some problems figuring out the right way to do things.
One of the things that he has figured out the right way to deal with, however, is the Canadian relationship with the United States. Canada’s relationship with the United States is, at the moment, the most important economic one it has. (Ask me which one is the most important 10 years from now and I might say China.) While that relationship has had its ups and downs, particularly over issues like softwood lumber and cultural issues, it has been dependable and stable for decades.

That was then. This is now.

And now comes in the form of Pres. Donald Trump, a man whose ideas on how to effectively govern the most powerful nation on the planet could be written down on the back of a matchbook cover. Perhaps the most accurate description to be seen so far of Mr. Trump’s governing style was put forward by former liberal staffer Warren Kinsella who described Mr. Trump as a “monkey with a machine gun.” Trump’s habit of tweeting out policy at 3 AM in the morning when he’s restless and bored means anyone dealing with his administration needs to be nimble and one step ahead of the game.

And this is where Canada has perhaps shown the way for other nations in how to deal with Mr. Trump by creating a “war room” in Mr. Trudeau’s riding office in Papineau Québec. The office, headed by liberal political veteran Brian Clow, is designed to help coordinate the Trudeau government’s response to Mr. Trump’s unpredictable whims and fancies. As described in The Hill, which covers government and political issues emanating from Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the office will seek to ensure “integrated outreach across government, so that any projects or talks already underway continue to be worked on.”

Perhaps the most accurate description to be seen so far of Mr. Trump’s governing style was put forward by former liberal staffer Warren Kinsella who described Mr. Trump as a “monkey with a machine gun.”

The genius in this idea is that it will prevent the Trudeau government from “fighting the last war” – in other words move it away from conducting negotiations and outreach in the bureaucratic ways that used to work in the past, but are quite irrelevant in the age of social media and Mr. Trump’s ‘in the moment’ bulldozer style of public policy. Making sure that all government departments are coordinated and singing from the same hymnbook in their dealings with the Trump administration is also key. If you want to see how chaotic mixed messages can be, take a look at what’s happening south of the border right now, where government departments are sometimes called upon to respond to initiatives they didn’t even know were happening.

Another smart thing the Trudeau government did is make former Lieut. Gen., now Liberal MP, Andrew Leslie (Orléans, Ont.), parliamentary secretary to the Foreign Affairs minister, focused on Canada-U.S. relations. The Canadian-American military relationship is important one, and Mr. Leslie’s time working with the Americans, especially in Afghanistan, will serve him well. (There are already signs that the US military is not happy with Pres. Trump – witness the recent leak by three different officials at the Pentagon about how poorly planned the recent raid on Yemen was.) Considering the number of former military people now serving the Trump administration, having a solid relationship with them can only benefit Canada in the long run.

There will be pressure on Trudeau to not be too chummy with Trump, or face the kind of public backlash that greeted British Prime Minister Theresa Mays’ public relationship with The Donald. On the other hand, however, Trudeau cannot afford to be too standoffish or else he risks the wrath of a man known for his childish vengeful attacks on those he sees his opponents. Creating a war room to deal with the US and its new administration is one way of ensuring that Canada’s best interests will be looked after.

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