As many of the nation’s cities continue to grapple with the proliferation of handguns on their streets, and the resulting bloodshed and deaths, the conservative wing of the United States Supreme Court has expanded gun rights in this country. Ruling 5-4 with Justice Samuel Alito writing for the majority, the Court ruled in McDonald v. Chicago that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants all Americans the right to bear arms. The case came out of Chicago where the city, led by Mayor Richard Daley, had imposed restrictive gun laws to confront gun violence in the Windy City. In 2008, the Court had struck down a similar law in the nation’s capital aimed at curbing gun violence.
For anyone who is old enough to remember the assassinations of President Kennedy, NAACP leader Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy, the idea that the Second Amendment guarantees every citizen a right to bear arms is ridiculous. By now, we would hope that Americans would come to understand the sanctity of our democracy is under assault when citizens have carte blanche to arm up. We seriously doubt that the framers of the Constitution intended for every citizen to have access to firearms and believe that they envisioned a narrowly construed right. Even if they did not have such a narrow definition in mind, the Constitution is not a static document and justices should weigh cases against the context of current conditions.
Cities such as Chicago and Washington, DC are under siege due to the flood of handguns in the streets; just ask the local police. Both cities made a valiant attempt to impose laws that would serve the interest of residents. Now, the conservatives on the Court have determined that those laws do not pass constitutional muster. The irony of course is that none of the conservative majority lives in a community or in close proximity to a neighborhood like many in Chicago and Washington D.C. where countless families have buried relatives killed by gun violence. The refrain of gun advocates that, “guns don’t kill, people do” rings hollow to a family burying a son or daughter murdered by a person wielding a gun. Meanwhile, white, right-wing militias are stockpiling weapons, engaging in paramilitary exercises and turning up their racist rhetoric, most of it aimed at President Obama.
If nothing else, the ruling of the Court in McDonald highlights again the importance of presidential appointments at a time when Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s Senate confirmation hearing is underway. While conservative rhetoric paints any Democratic nominee to the bench an “activist jurist,” it is the right that is bending the Constitution to serve their narrow political ends. The five justices who ruled in the majority might as well have been members of the executive council of the National Rifle Association, the nation’s gun lobby, because the decision reeks of catering to a special interest. On this issue, the conservative majority on the Court has functioned like political hacks.
The gun lobby might be large but we suspect that there is a larger “silent” majority fed up with the barbaric attitude of gun proponents. The anti-gun lobby needs to mobilize its forces and launch a singularly focused campaign to lead our nation into a gun-free future. We know it sounds impossible but so did taking on the tobacco lobby and curbing cigarette use three decades ago. Some of us might not live to see the day when a similar victory occurs for anti-gun forces but we will be content with knowing that we were instrumental in changing the course of our nation on this issue.