For as much rancor and debate as the Second Amendment has caused over the years, few realized the Supreme Court had never once in its history heard a case which asked them to define its meaning.
Last Thursday, the court ruled in District of Columbia et al. v. Heller that individual citizens are indeed guaranteed the right to possess firearms. In doing so, the court codified what has been the de jure condition in America since long before its founding.
While the opinion of the majority is a major victory for opponents of gun control, it does leave the possibility open to "reasonable" regulation.
Therein lies the trap. "Reasonable" is a word that is open to any number of interpretations by different people. Is allowing people to wander the streets sporting a rocket-propelled grenade launcher to be considered reasonable? Probably not.
The issue, then, becomes where to draw that line. As Justice Scalia wrote in the court's majority opinion, "The term [arms] was applied, then as now, to weapons that were not specifically designed for military use and were not employed in a military capacity." So much for asking for that grenade launcher for Christmas.
The basic right to bear arms, however, is one of the primordial and basic concepts in liberty. Many of the great tragedies of history have been perpetrated by the armed and trained against the unarmed and untrained.
To quote an opinion from an earlier ruling in the 9th Circuit, "Stalin's atrocities, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Holocaust, to name but a few- were perpetrated by armed troops against unarmed populations ... If a few hundred Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto could hold off the Wehrmacht for almost a month with only a handful of weapons, six million Jews armed with rifles could not so easily have been herded into cattle cars."The basic truth of the matter is this: Free men require the ability to protect their freedom. Personally. The ability of common civilians to arm themselves is perhaps the only true defense under the direst of conditions against a police state.
Additionally, there is the practical issue of self-defense. If the criminal breaking into your house has access to a weapon, then so should you. In the words of one writer, "An armed society is a polite society." As an illustration: Switzerland, where firearms ownership and training is mandatory, has some of the lowest crime statistics in the world. By contrast: In the United Kingdom, which has extensive gun control legislation, violent crime has been on the rise for years, with more than three times more sexual assaults and murders per capita than the Swiss.
Firearms can be a means to a variety of ends. Just as the pen may either be an instrument to misspell words or to free nations, a gun can be both the instruments of destruction and harm as well as the means to guard and guarantee liberty.