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Good News, Bad News
Wednesday, July 16, 2008 • Posted July 16, 2008

By now, unless you’ve been living in a cave somewhere, you’ve probably heard about the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller on 26 June. The justices decided the Second Amendment means that Americans have an individual right to keep and bear arms. That’s the good news.

When the story first broke that day, I told my wife that 26 June should be declared a national holiday. A few hours later I got an email from Don Zaidle, my editor at Texas Fish & Game magazine, that said the same thing. Everyone in the country who is involved in the fight for individual gun rights started celebrating, and hasn’t quit yet.

Because of the Supreme Court’s decision, the NRA quickly moved to file lawsuits in San Francisco and Chicago to challenge gun bans similar to the one Washington D.C. has struggled under for 32 years. Citing the 26 June finding, the NRA hopes to reclaim individual rights in other places that should never have been taken away from citizens. Hopefully the suits will be successful.

But behind every silver lining there is a cloud, and the cloud behind the Supreme Court’s finding is very dark. The more I’ve learned about the decision, the more worried I’ve become. The Second Amendment is still a long way from being restored.

First of all, the justices voted 5-4 that 2A means what it says, as far as an individual’s right to arms. Other amendments were examined and used as examples to show that the Bill of Rights applies to people, not organizations, and definitely not government. This is good news, since the main argument against 2A was that it applied only to militias, and not individual people.

The disappointing part is that only five of the justices seem to believe that. The other four are either so liberal they are willing to knowingly rule against the obvious meaning of the constitution of the United States, or so stupid they don’t understand plain English. Either way those four people do not belong in a position to interpret parking tickets, much less legislation that affects every American’s right to self-protection.

But then it gets worse. About 54 pages in (the finding is 157 pages long) the document says, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” The usual prohibitions are mentioned, such firearm ownership by felons, or the mentally ill. “Conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms” is also mentioned, without clarification of whether the court means those already in place, or others yet to be thought of.

But the scariest part is on page 55, which starts with “We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms.” Never mind that 2A itself says the right “shall not be infringed,” the Supreme Court, too big even for its own oversized britches, proceeds to do just that. The document states, “the sorts of weapons protected were those ‘in common use at the time.’”

So, according to the Supreme Court, you don’t have the right to keep and bear arms except in certain circumstances, in certain places, at certain times, and not at all unless you meet certain criteria. And the ONLY weapons actually protected are muzzle-loading percussions and flintlocks.

This is the part I’m afraid will come back to haunt us, and not in some distant, hazy future. Because on 12 June 2008, H.R. 6257 was introduced to congress, “To reinstate the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act.” (Cue the scary music here)

This is an attempt by four congressmen to reinstate the infamous ‘Assault Weapons Ban’ that ran out a few years ago. We knew this was coming. The culprits, in case you want to write or call and tell them they are idiots, are Mark Kirk (R-IL), Michael Castle (R-DE), Michael Ferguson (R-NJ), and Christopher Shays (R-CT). I already contacted Kirk’s office, but he won’t return my calls.

Because of the Supreme Court’s wording about 2A that “the sorts of weapons protected were those ‘in common use at the time,’” that decision could be used to help pass H.R. 6257. There were no semi-automatic weapons when the Bill of Rights was written. But in case you don’t care, and don’t think it matters, bear in mind that there were no bolt actions or pumps at the time, either. Those WILL be next.

There are other problems with the finding of the court, such as wording that implies possession of arms is a privilege given us by the government, instead of a right the government recognizes and protects for us. You get the idea.

Maybe I’m being pessimistic, but every silver lining really does have a cloud. The historic decision of 26 June looks good on the surface, but it seems to me the Supreme Court is patting us on the back with one hand and picking our pocket with the other.

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who believes the constitution means what it says. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or

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