2nd Amendment, Comma, Update

Here is a quick update on the status of the 2nd Amendment case before the Supreme Court. It is set for oral argument on March 18, 2008. Normally, the Court sets two cases for argument, one hour each, on argument days. The Heller case is the only argument set for that day, so the Court will probably allow more than one hour. The government will, no doubt, be allocated time as well as the parties.

I have finished reviewing all the amicus briefs filed on behalf of those who support D.C.’s ban on handguns — and it is a good thing too, since the opponents will be filing this week. So much to read, so little time.

Little has been said about the 2nd Amendment commas in the briefs thus far. Nine pages of D.C.’s brief address grammar issues. Of more interest to grammarians — and to my thesis about the uses the majority and minority on the Court will put to those commas — is the brief filed on behalf of some English professors and linguists. I’ll be back on Monday to dissect it. (No doubt other professors will weigh in on the other side.)

In the meantime, here is the Readers’ Digest version of the briefs filed thus far.

1.) Doctors and law enforcement organizations weigh in with frightening statistics about deaths, especially those of children, resulting from handguns in the United States. (Even if one opposes the D.C. ban, this audit of death is awful.)

2.) Lawyers, specifically the American Bar Association, take the conservative view that the ban should be upheld. For the court to now decide that the U.S. Constitution protects an individual right to keep handguns in our homes will overturn too much history and too much law and involve the court in a decades-long series of cases meddling with States’ existing laws and States’ rights. Former Attorneys General and employees of the Justice Department agree, arguing that the Bush Administration’s radical shift is wrong-headed. (Although they don’t say it outright, their position is that no government can afford to have a well-armed citizenry. Revolutions result. Imagine the consternation if liberals took to the streets with their guns.)

3.) The others argue:

a.) The 2nd Amendment protects the right of the people to militias, not individual armaments. Not only do the words and the grammar indicate this, but the words “bear arms” mean “military weapons,” not personal armaments.

b.) But, if the Court should decide that the Constitution does insure the right of individuals to “bear arms”; that right, like all other rights in the Bill of Rights is not absolute. Those rights are subject to reasonable regulation and the D.C. ordinance is just such a reasonable regulation. (We can predict the reaction of only one Justice to that argument. Clarence Thomas won’t buy it. In the schoolyard gun case of a few years ago Thomas wrote separately, taking the position that all regulations of any kind imposed by the federal government on guns are unconstitutional. Not even Justice Scalia is willing to go that far. As Scalia once said, “I’m an originalist, but I’m not a nut.”)


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