Ripped from the wires ... Texas writer Rowland Nethaway explains what the 2nd Amendment dispute now before the U.S. Supreme Court for resolution is all about.
By ROWLAND NETHAWAY
WACO, Texas -- The U.S. Supreme Court should allow Dick Heller to keep a handgun in his home.
Dick Anthony Heller is a 66-year-old security guard who carries a handgun to protect the employees and property at the federal building where he works in Washington, D.C.
Because Heller also is a resident of the District of Columbia, he is prohibited from having a handgun in his home for self-protection.
Heller sued to overturn Washington's 1976 gun-control law that also requires all rifles or shotguns in D.C. homes to be disassembled or kept under trigger lock. Heller sued claiming that the D.C. law violated his Second Amendment rights.
That amendment states: "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 meaning of those 27 words, including how they are punctuated, has been argued, debated, cussed and discussed since the Bill of Rights was ratified on Dec. 15, 1791.
Actually, the wording of the Second Amendment was controversial and often changed from the time that founding father and leading Federalist James Madison proposed this compromise provision years earlier.
To the surprise of many observers, Heller won his lawsuit before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit when that court struck down the district's gun law. Previous decisions of a similar nature around the country had gone the other way.
Now it is up to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether Heller has a constitutional right to keep a handgun in his home, located only a mile away from the court.
No one knows what the justices will rule when the decision is announced a few months from now, but Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who now is watched as the deciding swing vote on the divided court, appeared to side with Heller's argument in saying, "In my view, there's a general right to bear arms quite without reference to the militia either way.''
Over the years, gun control advocates, gun owner groups and constitutional scholars have debated the meaning of "militia,'' "the People,'' "keep and bear arms,'' "bear arms,'' "shall not be infringed'' and the significance of the two clauses along with the many changes the amendment went through before it was finally adopted.
During the arguments involving Heller's case, Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito Jr. appeared to support Kennedy's assertion that there is a general right for the people to own guns aside from the reference to a well-regulated militia.
Although Justice Clarence Thomas didn't tip his hand during the Heller arguments, he has previously indicated support for the idea that the Second Amendment protects individual rights to own guns.
Even if the court does decide that the amendment protects the individual rights of gun ownership, lawyers in support of the D.C. law still hope to prevail on the argument that the district has the right to ban "uniquely dangerous'' weapons such as handguns that are used in much gun violence and criminal activity and can easily be taken into schools, buses and other public gathering places.
The 1934 National Firearms Act attempted to control such "uniquely dangerous'' firearms as automatic-fire machine guns, short-barreled shotguns and rifles, silencers and other "gadget-type'' firearms and accessories.
If the D.C. council can decide its own definition of "uniquely dangerous'' weapons, so could every other city and state, which potentially could restrict gun ownership to the point that all guns could be rendered useless for personal defense.
"If you have time, when you hear somebody crawling in your your bedroom window, you can run to your gun, unlock it, load it and then fire?'' Scalia asked the D.C. lawyers.
In essence, the D.C. law prevents citizens from using guns for self-defense. This is fine with many gun-control advocates.
Personally, I think Heller should be able to keep a handgun in his home for his protection.
Write Nethaway, who writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald, at RNethaway@wacotrib.com.