Updated: Apr 6, 2018
By Mary Lou Ambrose, President
The Supreme Court sometimes gets it wrong. Take Plessey Vs Ferguson (1896). The Court upheld the constitutionality of racial discrimination making “Separate but Equal” the Law of the land, knowing full well that there was no Equality resulting from the decision. In 2010, the Supremes held that there was no danger to our Democracy if Corporations and Unions were permitted to consider their money as Speech, for purposes of the First Amendment. We all saw how wise Citizens United vs Federal Elections Committee has proven to be. More recently, the Supreme Court in Shelby County vs Holder (2013), struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act which protected Black citizens’ access to the ballot box. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion, actually stating that since many Blacks had been elected to offices since the Voting Act was put into place, there was no longer a need for it. (Justice Ginsburg, in her dissent likened that reasoning to deciding that, since an umbrella had been shown to keep a person dry during a rain storm, it should now be eliminated.)
The Supreme Court’s opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), was the case which turned the meaning of the Second Amendment on its head. The Second Amendment reads: “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.
The Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to bear arms and struck down a D.C. ban on handguns. However, the court also ruled, that “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” Since its inception in 1791 until the Heller decision, the initial phrase in the Second Amendment dealing with ownership by those in the militia, ruled. In all those years, the reference to a “well regulated militia” similar to the current day National Guard, was understood as the basic reason for the Second Amendment. Each home needed to have a gun to protect the country in time of war, since there was no standing army. In Heller, the need to arm a Militia was ignored, and the court decided that people had a right to have handguns in their homes. They even struck down the part of the holding from an Appellate Court that a gun kept in a home must be stored unloaded and disassembled. That, to my mind puts Heller in the same category as Plessey, Citizens United and Shelby – mistakes made by the Supreme Court. There was no discussion of automatic or semi-automatic weapons, and it was clear that the holding related only to hand guns.
Justice Scalia wrote the decision. He pointed out during an interview with Fox News1 that “the Second Amendment obviously” doesn’t apply to weapons that can’t be hand-carried, and modern-day weapons like “hand-held rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes weren’t factored in at the time.” Scalia said further that his “starting point and probably (his) ending point will be what limitations are within the understood limitations that the society had at the time.” He said “……...so ,we’ll see what those limitations are as applied to modern weapons.”
“We’ll see,” Scalia said, suggesting that future court cases will determine what limitations on modern-day weapons are permissible. During the interview, Justice Scalia said, “Some (limitations) undoubtedly are [permissible]……… so “yes, there are some limitations that can be imposed.” Somehow the possibility of limitations was lost in the retelling. As far as the NRA and its hard-core followers are concerned, the Second Amendment cannot be limited in any way.
So, from that point, the Second Amendment which had secured protection for hand guns has transitioned into what the NRA demands of the Legislators: complete protection for guns of every type in every situation. People are permitted to walk the streets carrying loaded AK-15 semi-automatic weapons. (Remember the police killings in Dallas when there were men on the streets during the attacks, carrying such loaded weapons, making the job of finding the shooter more difficult?) The NRA protects the carrying of loaded guns, including AK-15s, in churches, in movie theaters, on campuses or at concerts without restrictions. As far as I can see, the only places in Florida where the NRA doen’t push for gun being allowed are at gun shows and in the Florida Legislature.
In the Republican State Houses and in the Republican-controlled US Congress are bought and paid for by the NRA. (I can’t deny that they are joined by some Democrats.) The President of the United States is bought and paid for by the NRA. Rational legislation regarding guns of any kind are controlled by money from the NRA. It is a vicious circle.
Clearly, the argument that Heller does not control automatic or semi-automatic rifles is valid, since it refers only to hand guns. The claim of the NRA that there can be no limits on the ownership and use of guns was dismissed by Justice Scalia, who specifically said that limitations could be set. So why are we at this juncture?
The mission of the NRA is simply to facilitate the sale of guns of all types and they pay well for the cooperation of the Legislators who work for them. The baby steps recently taken by the Florida Legislature in making minor changes have been called “brave.” That’s ridiculous. Marian Hammer, the lobbyist for the NRA in Florida, rules, pays, and terrifies our Legislators. She is clearly the most powerful person in Florida. She is the gun-money person.
The solution to our gun problems is to put Marian Hammer out of business. We must vote out those who take money from the NRA and, like Grover Norcross on taxes, require a written promise from candidates running for office that they will not take money from the NRA. Only when common sense prevails in Congress and the Legislatures will we escape the hold of the NRA and start to end the massacres that plague us.
1Fox News POLITICS July 31, 2012
POLITICS 7/29/2012 Huffington Post