The U.S. Supreme Court is on the brink of issuing what could be its most important ruling ever on the constitutional Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Gun-rights backers and gun-control advocates alike are anxiously awaiting the high court's ruling, the first time since 1939 that the nation's top justices have tackled the Second Amendment. A decision could come this week.
“I feel the founding fathers gave us this right,” said Henry Williams, 54, a Raleigh resident who attended the Capital City Gun Show at the N.C. State Fairgrounds on Sunday. “I don't see that anybody has the right to take it away from us.”
But Roxane Kolar, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, argues that gun rights advocates have misconstrued the Second Amendment. Moreover, she contends, “Most people believe in gun safety and sensible gun legislation.”
At issue in the Supreme Court case is Washington, D.C.'s ban on handguns.
That ban was challenged by a D.C. special police officer who is entitled to carry a gun while working as a guard at the Federal Judicial Center but was denied a permit to keep a firearm in his home.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled the ban violates the Second Amendment; the district appealed that ruling, and the case was argued before the Supreme Court in March.
The Second Amendment, which was ratified in 1791, states: “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.”
That wording is ambiguous enough for both sides of the gun-control issue to find comfort. The gun lobby says it grants individuals the right to bear arms. Gun-control organizations contend the right to bear arms is restricted to serving in a government-sanctioned militia.
Given that the Supreme Court is currently “a conservative court,” gun-control advocates worry that the justices “may rule that firearms ownership is an individual right,” said Kolar.
At the Capital City Gun Show, nearly 5,000 visitors were expected to troll the wares of more than 130 vendors – from Team Glock to Wild Bill's Concealment Holsters – hawking everything from semi-automatic weapons to antique rifles.
Many gun enthusiasts are pleased that the Supreme Court justices have decided to weigh in on the Second Amendment.
Many interviewed voiced the sentiment recited by gun show promoter Steven Elliot: “The Second Amendment is the only amendment in the constitution that guarantees all the other amendments,” he said. “Unarmed citizens aren't citizens. They're subjects.”
Kolar is hoping that, if the Supreme Court does overrule D.C.'s handgun ban, it “will also maintain there are state and federal rights to have sensible gun legislation.”
She even sees a potential silver lining in a ruling that upholds an individual's right to bear arms.
Kolar contends that groups such as the National Rifle Association have been so afraid of losing that right that they have resisted what she called “common-sense regulations.”
If the Supreme Court erases that fear, she said, perhaps organizations on both sides of the issue could collaborate on legislative and educational efforts to “make sure that those who have firearms are safe and legal gun owners, and those that shouldn't have firearms, don't.”