Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dred Scott and Guns

I am writing this as a draft, since I don't have the time, or the heart really, to go back and check my facts, but I am pretty certain they are right.

This is also a follow-up to my previous post, although not the one I intended to write, which would have been about torture.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms was an individual right. (The opposing point of view was that any individual right under the 2nd Amendment derived from the state's right to organize a militia, and therefore could be completely controlled by the state). As a result, the Court struck down D.C.'s blanket prohibition against individuals owning handguns. However, the Court was careful to point out that the state had the right to make restrictions on the right to hold guns, although it is not clear what those restrictions would look like.

Now, as a rider to a credit card bill, the Congress has approved a bill allowing people to carry concealed weapons in National Parks. Bush enacted a regulation to this effect in the last days of its administration, and Obama rescinded it when he came to office.

The Congress overwhelmingly passed this bill, and the passage was bipartisan. There is no indication that the President is inclined to veto his own credit card bill over this gun rider.

Proponents of the gun bill say that they merely want to assure that citizens who are passing through national parks on their travels from point A -- where guns are legal under local law --to point B -- where guns are legal under local law --- do not get jammed in the park.

This is the same argument that the slave owners made in the Dred Scott decision. Just because a slaveowner found himself in Federal territory on the way from one slave state to the other does not mean that he should be forced to give up his slave. Even if the slaveowner found himself in Federal territory for years on end.

The Dred Scott Supreme Court ruled that Congress had no right to restrict slaves in Federal territories.

The current Congress is passing a law on the same basis -- that Congress should not be restricting the 2nd Amendment to keep and bear arms --- in Federal territories.

Abraham Lincoln, in his "House Divided" speech, made the point that once Congress is banned from from acting in Federal territories, the jump banning the states from acting for themselves, is very small.

Lincoln was worried that the Taney Supreme Court would eventually make a ruling barring the states from banning slaves. The Supreme Court would say that the states had no right to force the citizens of one state to surrender their rights when they travel to another state.

I am worried that the Roberts Supreme Court would bar the states from banning guns on a similar rationale.

Mostly, I am just very very angry that I may not be able to spend any more time in Acadia National Park or on the Jacob Riis National Seashore.