The divide between gun-rights advocates and those who think every firearm in the United States should be smelted down into a giant pile of molten mush wasn't narrowed by much with the Supreme Court's ruling on the Washington gun ban.
A 9-0 vote one way or the other couldn't do that.
The gun-rights folks did have more to celebrate after last month's decision was announced. Finally, Americans have a bright-line answer of "yes" to the question of whether the Second Amendment outlines an individual right to keep a firearm, at least in one's home.
Of course, residents of the District of Columbia may still be out of luck when it comes to buying a handgun for the home because they would have to cross a state line to buy one, and that's still a no-no.
In its 5-4 decision, the court confirmed what gun-rights advocates have long said about why the Founding Fathers included the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights. A gun may have helped put meat on the family table, but owning one was about more than shooting rabbits. The right to "possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation" was elemental in the wording, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority.
"Nowhere else in the Constitution does a 'right' attributed to 'the people' refer to anything other than an individual right," the opinion said.
The Second Amendment was and is about an American's right to self-defense.
The court's opinion nullified two aspects of the District of Columbia's gun ordinance. The provision that forbade any resident from having a handgun in the home for lawful personal protection was deemed unconstitutional. The court also ruled that a provision requiring any gun except one kept at a business to be unloaded and disassembled or have a trigger lock in place was a no-go.
Gun-control advocates are in a tizzy about what they predict will be an unconscionable spike in gun-related crime as a result of the ruling.
A similar hysteria gripped them when states started adopting concealed-carry ordinances. The anti-gunners hyperventilated about impending modern-day shootouts at the O.K. Corral. That didn't happen, not in Texas or any of the 47 other states that have some process by which qualified residents can obtain a permit to carry a concealed handgun.
Alaska and Vermont, those bastions of violent crime not! have no restrictions at all. Only Wisconsin and Illinois forbid concealed carry but one can be carried openly in the Badger State if a person is on foot.
And the reason those state laws differ is one of the issues that the Supreme Court left unanswered with its decision. The justices did not determine whether the Second Amendment is incorporated into the 14th Amendment, which would make it apply to the states.
As it stands, the ruling only restricts the reach of the federal government (and D.C.), leaving open the question of whether state and local laws that excessively restrict gun ownership, like the ones in the Chicago suburbs of Morton Grove and Oak Park, are constitutional.
Morton Grove isn't waiting around to find out. Village Manager Joe Wade told National Public Radio that village officials are going to "propose an ordinance that would eliminate the possession-of-handgun ban within the village."
Not so Oak Park. It intends to continue fighting the lawsuit filed by the National Rifle Association before the Supreme Court's hallmark decision.
The District of Columbia may not be out of the legal weeds yet. After the court's ruling was announced, district officials suggested that residents still might be prohibited from owning semiautomatic handguns.
A reading of Scalia's majority opinion refers to handguns in general. The words "revolvers only" are conspicuously absent.The Supreme Court's decision does not eliminate reasonable restrictions on firearms possession and ownership. D.C.'s licensing and registration provisions, for example, were left intact. The next fight between gun-rights advocates and the smelters will be over the definition of reasonable.
Jill "J.R." Labbe is deputy editorial page editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. E-mail: [email protected].