“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.”
Depending on your perspective, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is either inarguably clear in its intent, or else it’s the most god-awfully ambiguous legal statement ever penned in the nation’s 232-year history.
The debate has been thus: Does the constitutional right to bear arms reside only with a state’s “well-regulated Militia,” or does the amendment also solidly confer an individual right to gun ownership? Oddly enough, it’s an issue that’s never been broached before by the U.S. Supreme Court — until now.
In a landmark decision handed down June 26, the court issued a 5-4 decision for individual rights. At the same time, it also ruled that individual gun-ownership is not an unfettered right and that governments can exert a certain level of control. So, while Washington, D.C.‘s ban is unconstitutional, other existing gun-control laws, or those that might be passed in the future, may not be.
“It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority. “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.”
In addition to its historical significance, the ruling is striking in one other way for Western North Carolina readers: It has a local angle. The man who brought and personally funded the case, which ostensibly sought to lift the ban on handguns in Washington, D.C., is local resident Robert Levy (pictured) of Biltmore Lake. To learn more about why he backed the case, read a recent Mountain Xpress interview with Levy here.
— Hal L. Millard, staff writer