District of Columbia v. Heller (07-290), the “DC guns case,” considers whether the second amendment confers an individual right beyond the state’s collective interest in a “well regulated militia.” The case is interesting not only because it is the first time since 1939 (U.S. v. Miller) that the Supreme Court has attempted to articulate the scope of the amendment, but also because the second amendment continues to trouble the meaning of civil libertarianism. Is a person who fights for First Amendment freedoms but favors a handgun ban for reasons of public safety a true civil libertarian? More directly, does the second amendment rise to the same level of importance as other, more notable individual rights? Some scholars believe that the second amendment is no different than other bill of rights amendments. What do you think?
It is worth noting that the support for the parties in the DC guns case has not been drawn along political lines as neatly as would be expected on gun control issues. For example, the Bush administration has distanced itself from the second amendment and Respondent Heller. Jack Balkin, of Balkinization, explains that the DC guns case may forever change the rhetoric that politicians and courts use to discuss gun rights. At the same time, some of my colleagues at the ACLU are inclined to support the handgun ban because of legitimate fears over handgun violence here in the DC area.
Maybe the most interesting aspect of this case is the possibility that the Supreme Court will create a new individual right to bear arms. Were the Court to take such a bold and activist step, then civil libertarians who view the second amendment as somehow subservient to the others would certainly have some explaining to do.
Editor’s note: Welcome to our new blogger!