The Bill of Rights was written in 1789 to explicitly restrict the federal government’s ability to misinterpret or abuse the U.S. Constitution so as to infringe upon an individual’s G-d given rights. It took another 217 years before the Supreme Court affirmed the right to bear and keep arms in a landmark 5-4 decision that methodically debunked various misinterpretations of the Second Amendment.   

The majority opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia states that “the people” referred to in the Second Amendment are individuals, and it “protects” the right “to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home” – and is in agreement with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on this point. 

In reaching this conclusion, Scalia, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito, first brushed aside all silly interpretations of the Second Amendment’s phrasing – 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. – based on comma placement or subordinate clauses: 

In interpreting this text, we are guided by the principle that “[t]he Constitution was written to be understood by the voters; its words and phrases were used in their normal and ordinary as distinguished from technical meaning.” … Normal meaning may of course include an idiomatic meaning, but it excludes secret or technical meanings thatwould not have been known to ordinary citizens in the founding generation [emphasis, The Stiletto]. 

Then the high court settled the chicken-and-egg question of whether citizens needed to be armed so that a “well-regulated militia” could be formed, or whether they would be armed once they joined such an entity. 

First, how the Court determined that the Second Amendment is an individual, not a collective right that can be exercised only under certain conditions, such as militia membership: 

Although this structure of the Second Amendment is unique in our Constitution, other legal documents of the founding era, particularly individual-rights provisions of state constitutions, commonly included a prefatory statement of purpose. … 

[A] prefatory clause does not limit or expand the scope of the operative clause. … 

The first salient feature of the operative clause is that it codifies a “right of the people.” The unamended Constitution and the Bill of Rights use the phrase “right of the people” two other times, in the First Amendment’s Assembly-and-Petition Clause and in the Fourth Amendment’s Search-and-Seizure Clause. The Ninth Amendment uses very similar terminology … All three of these instances unambiguously refer to individual rights, not “collective” rights, or rights that may be exercised only through participation in some corporate body. … 

[I]n all six other provisions of the Constitution that mention “the people,” the term unambiguously refers to all members of the political community, not an unspecified subset. 

Next, the Supreme Court considered the meanings of the words “arms, “keep” and “bear” as they would have been understood by the Founding Fathers and the citizens who would be exercising this right:  

The term was applied, then as now, to weapons that were not specifically designed for military use and were not employed in a military capacity. … 

Some have made the argument, bordering on the frivolous, that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment. We do not interpret constitutional rights that way. Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications … the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding. 

We turn to the phrases “keep arms” and “bear arms.” … 

The phrase “keep arms” was not prevalent in the written documents of the founding period that we have found, but there are a few examples, all of which favor viewing the right to “keep Arms” as an individual right unconnected with militia service. … Petitioners point to militia laws of the founding period that required militia members to “keep” arms in connection with militia service, and they conclude from this that the phrase “keep Arms” has a militia-related connotation. … This is rather like saying that, since there are many statutes that authorize aggrieved employees to “file complaints” with federal agencies, the phrase “file complaints” has an employment-related connotation. “Keep arms” was simply a common way of referring to possessing arms, for militiamen and everyone else. … 

At the time of the founding, as now, to “bear” meant to “carry.” … 

Although the phrase implies that the carrying of the weapon is for the purpose of “offensive or defensive action,” it in no way connotes participation in a structured military organization. From our review of founding-era sources, we conclude that this natural meaning was also the meaning that “bear arms” had in the 18th century. In numerous instances, “bear arms” was unambiguously used to refer to the carrying of weapons outside of an organized militia. The most prominent examples are those most relevant to the Second Amendment: Nine state constitutional provisions written in the 18th century or the first two decades of the 19th, which enshrined a right of citizens to “bear arms in defense of themselves and the state” or “bear arms in defense of himself and the state.” … 

Putting all of these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation. This meaning is strongly confirmed by the historical background of the Second Amendment. We look to this because it has always been widely understood that the Second Amendment, like the First and Fourth Amendments, codified a pre-existing right. The very text of the Second Amendment implicitly recognizes the pre-existence of the right and declares only that it “shall not be infringed.”  

Finally, the justices define “a well-regulated militia” and explain its function: 

Unlike armies and navies, which Congress is given the power to create the militia is assumed by Article I already to be in existence. Congress is given the power to “provide for calling forth the militia,” and the power not to create, but to “organiz[e]” it – and not to organize “a” militia, which is what one would expect if the militia were to be a federal creation, but to organize “the” militia, connoting a body already in existence …  

[T]he adjective “well-regulated” implies nothing more than the imposition of proper discipline and training. … 

[T]he phrase “security of a free state” meant “security of a free polity,” not securityof each of the several States … It is true that the term “State” elsewhere in the Constitution refers to individual States, but the phrase “security of a free state” and close variations seem to have been terms of art in 18th-century political discourse, meaning a “ ‘free country’ ” or free polity. … 

There are many reasons why the militia was thought to be “necessary to the security of a free state.” … First, of course, it is useful in repelling invasions and suppressing insurrections. Second, it renders large standing armies unnecessary … Third, when the able-bodied men of a nation are trained in arms and organized, they are better able to resist tyranny. … 

[T]he history that the founding generation knew …  showed that the way tyrants had eliminated a militia consisting of all the ablebodied men was not by banning the militia but simply by taking away the people’s arms, enabling a select militia or standing army to suppress political opponents. This is what had occurred in England that prompted codification of the right to have arms in the English Bill of Rights. … 

[T]he right helped to secure the ideal of a citizen militia, which might be necessary to oppose an oppressive military force if the constitutional order broke down. 

As to the matter at hand, District of Columbia v. Heller, the high court first makes it clear that “[l]ike most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited”: 

[N]othing in our opinion should 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. … 

As we have said, the law totally bans handgun possession in the home. It also requires that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock at all times, rendering it inoperable. … 

[T]he inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right. The handgun ban amounts to a prohibition of an entire class of “arms” that is overwhelmingly chosen by American society for that lawful purpose. The prohibition extends, moreover, to the home, where the need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute. Under any of the standards of scrutiny that we have appliedto enumerated constitutional rights banning from the home “the most preferred firearm in the nation to ‘keep’ and use for protection of one’s home and family,” would fail constitutional muster. … 

We must also address the District’s requirement (as applied to respondent’s handgun) that firearms in the home be rendered and kept inoperable at all times. This makes it impossible for citizens to use them for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional. … 

In sum, we hold that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense. Assuming that Heller is not disqualified from the exercise of Second Amendment rights, the District must permit him to register his handgun and must issue him a license to carry it in the home. … 

The Constitution leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating thatproblem, including some measures regulating handguns. But the enshrinement ofconstitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table. These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.  

The 64-page opinion ends with this kicker: After noting arguments that the Second Amendment is an anachronism, seeing as we maintain a standing army and communities provide well-trained police for personal security, and that gun violence is an ongoing concern, Scalia states unequivocally that “it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.” 

What is notable about the decision is the great pains that the court took to analyze the Second Amendment using an originalist approach. Northwestern University School of Law professor John McGinnis tells Legal Times: “originalism commands consensus support, at least when the issue is whether a right that is in the constitution can be restricted.”  

The ruling was a long time in coming – the last time the Supreme Court addressed the Second Amendment at all was a brief discussion in United States v. Miller in 1939 – but Scalia argues that “it should be unsurprising that such a significant matter has been for so long judicially unresolved”: 

For most of our history, the Bill of Rights was not thought applicable to the States, and the Federal Government did not significantly regulate the possession of firearms by law-abiding citizens. Other provisions of the Bill of Rights have similarly remained unilluminated for lengthy periods. This Court first held a law to violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech in 1931, almost 150 years after the Amendment was ratified … and it was not until after World War II that we held a law invalid under the Establishment Clause … Even a question as basic as the scope of proscribable libel was not addressed by this Court until 1964, nearly two centuries after the founding. 

Scalia noted that this was the court’s “first in-depth examination of the Second Amendment” and anticipated additional lawsuits to “clarify the entire field.” Many of them, no doubt, will challenge the constitutionality of specific local restrictions  – as the Heller case did.  

National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre is quoted by Legal Times as saying this ruling is “the opening salvo in a step-by-step process of providing relief for law-abiding Americans everywhere that have been deprived of this freedom.” 

For his part, NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg released this written statement reacting to the ruling: 

In just two years, 320 Democratic, Republican, and independent mayors have come together to support the common sense goal of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. From the beginning, we have said that fighting illegal guns has nothing to do with the Second Amendment rights of Americans. Today’s decision by the Supreme Court upholding those rights will benefit our coalition by finally putting to rest the ideological debates that have for too long obscured an obvious fact: criminals, who have no right to purchase or possess guns, nevertheless have easy access to them. Mayors and police chiefs have a responsibility to crack down on illegal guns and punish gun criminals, and it is encouraging that the Supreme Court recognizes the constitutionality of reasonable regulations that allow for us to carry out those responsibilities. 

The Stiletto has a conceal carry permit in a state where she is free to exercise her Second Amendment rights. She has undergone several FBI fingerprint and background checks, thus can prove she is not a criminal or otherwise undeserving in any way of a conceal carry permit in NYC. If the plethora of excessively burdensome procedures and regulations NYC has imposed to obtain gun permits – the practical effect of which is to dissuade all but the most determined citizens from even attempting to exercise their right to keep and bear arms  – are not changed within 12 months The Stiletto will be contacting LaPierre.  

BTW: The Supreme Court decision in a Sixth Amendment case overturning the murder conviction of Dwayne Giles, because the trial court permitted the jury to hear statements ex-girlfriend Brenda Avie made to police responding to a domestic violence call about Giles choking her and threatening to slash her with a knife – and Giles could not challenge her incriminating account seeing as how he had fatally shot her. It has been observed that no woman would be raped if all women packed heat. In the wake of this ruling, a person would be crazy not to own a gun and know how to use it if there were the slightest possibility (s)he could be killed before testifying in a court of law.

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog, chosen an Official Honoree in the Political Blogs category by the judges of the 12th Annual Webby Awards (the Oscars of the online universe) along with CNN Political Ticker, Swampland (Time magazine) and The Caucus (The New York Times).

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