June 28, 2008, 10:00AM
Supreme Court ruling scored a bull’s-eye
Court’s finding is true to our founding fathers’ original intent
By TED CRUZ
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
The U.S. Supreme Court made history Thursday. For the first time, the court squarely and unequivocally upheld an individual right to keep and bear arms protected in the Constitution. This landmark decision was a victory for Texas and for all Americans.
The Second Amendment explicitly protects our right to keep and bear arms, so some might wonder why it took so many years for the Supreme Court to embrace that right.
The reason, as the court explained, is simple. For most of our history, that right was widely understood and accepted, and governments by and large did not attempt to trample on the right. Accordingly, there were relatively few legal challenges raising serious Second Amendment issues.
Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, academic and legal commentators began articulating another theory of the Second Amendment. Instead of protecting individual rights, they argued, the Second Amendment merely addressed the “collective rights” of the state militias. This creative theory had, from the perspective of its proponents, a compelling consequence: If accepted, it meant that no government laws restricting individual gun ownership could ever be struck down.
And the theory bore fruit. In 1976, the District of Columbia enacted a series of ordinances that were the most draconian in the nation. The D.C. gun ban amounted to a complete and total prohibition on citizens’ owning any operational firearms in the District of Columbia. The ordinances prohibited the private possession of all handguns and also required that all long guns (i.e., rifles and shotguns) be disassembled or have trigger locks in place at all times. This latter requirement had no exceptions, so that even if a crime of violence were under way in your own home, trigger lock in self-defense or defense of family would constitute a crime in the District of Columbia.
Dick Anthony Heller, a special police officer who lives in D.C., who carries a service revolver at work, and who wanted to keep a handgun at home for self-defense, filed a lawsuit challenging those laws. As a result of that lawsuit, the Supreme Court struck down the D.C. gun ban.
The Supreme Court’s decision was absolutely correct. As the court majority explained in an exhaustive, scholarly opinion, the right to keep and bear arms can be traced back to the English Declaration of Rights in the 1600s. In response to oppression from the Stuart Kings Charles II and James II, the English nobles obtained an explicit guarantee that they would never again be disarmed.
William Blackstone, the pre-eminent authority on English law at the time our Constitution was drafted, described that individual right as one of the five basic and essential rights of every Englishman.
And the Framers of our Constitution, following Blackstone and longstanding English law, embodied that right in the Second Amendment, which explicitly provides “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”
Before the Supreme Court, however, attorneys representing the District of Columbia argued that the fact that the Second Amendment also references the importance of the militia meant that only state militias could claim benefit of the Second Amendment.
That argument fundamentally misunderstands the constitutional text. At the time of our nation’s founding, the “militia” was understood to consist of all able-bodied males armed with their own weapons; indeed, the Militia Act of 1792 not only permitted individual gun ownership, it required every man to “provide himself with a good musket or firelock or with a good rifle.”
If D.C. had prevailed, the result would have been that no individual citizen could ever claim any right under the Second Amendment. Thankfully, that did not happen.
Unsurprisingly, Texas led the fight to protect the right to keep and bear arms. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott assembled a bipartisan group of 31 states, all of whom agreed that the Second Amendment protects an individual right and that the D.C. laws were unconstitutional. Notably, every state, including Texas, also agreed that some regulations on firearms are both permissible and advisable. For example, the states were united in supporting restrictions on violent felons’ owning guns.
But all of the amici states were likewise united in the belief that the Second Amendment means what it says. It is a fundament part of the Bill of Rights.
As a result of last week’s Supreme Court decision, the constitutional rights of every Texan and every American remain secure.
*Cruz, a Houston attorney, is a former solicitor general of Texas. In that capacity, he wrote an amicus brief in the District of Columbia v. Heller case for Texas and 30 other states supporting the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Cruz also argued the companion case to Heller in the court of appeals. cruz can be e-mailed at email@example.com. *