May 11, 2002
Gun Control and editorial bias

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorial page is mindlessly leftist. Take, for example, this editorial, from yesterday's edition. The writer has his anti-gun blinders on, and sure as heck isn't going to let anything like facts prevent him from making his point.

If you wonder, you might want to look to the Supreme Court, which interprets the Constitution, and the federal government, which must honor and enforce it. For more than 60 years now, those two branches of government have been of one mind about the Second Amendment: It's meant to protect the right of states to organize militias, they've long agreed — not to safeguard any sort of individual right to own guns.

Um, right. The supreme court is a branch of the federal government, but the federal government is not a branch of itself. Work on the logic before you start bloviating.

Surprised? Don't be. This long-held view has done a lot to shape the world you live in. Because of it, your neighbors can't cavort about town with machine guns. Your irascible coworkers can't carry pistols in their pockets without police permission. And when your thrice-jailed, wife-beating cousin tries to buy a handgun, he has to undergo a background check to determine whether he should have one.

None of these issues have anything to do with the argument you are setting up. Forget about the straw men and work on a real rebuttal, if one is possible.

Scores of state and federal laws regulate private gun ownership — all because the Supreme Court has said such laws are constitutional. In 1939, the court maintained that private citizens have no constitutional right to own a gun. The Second Amendment's real purpose, the court ruled then, is to secure "the preservation of efficiency of a well regulated militia." In its every expression before and since, the U.S. Justice Department has made the same case — thereby defending government's entitlement to restrict who can own a weapon.

And in 1857, the Supreme Court affirmed that slaves were the property of their masters. And in 1896, the Supreme Court ruled that "separate but Equal" was an acceptable compromise. Sometimes, the Supreme Court is wrong. I believe that the 1939 decision was one of those times. Just as the Brown vs. Board Of Edcuation ruling overturned the judicially unsound Plessy vs. Ferguson decision, this is the court reacting to a prior court's poor judgment. Your disapproval of the ruling doesn't make it wrong.

Until this week, that is. Attorney General John Ashcroft, lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, has seized the moment and tossed precedent in the trash. In briefs filed Monday, Ashcroft's Justice Department told the Supreme Court that the Constitution "broadly protects the rights of individuals" to own firearms. The declaration came in a footnote in each of two briefs filed by the department — in gun cases so arcane that the government argues they shouldn't be heard. That makes the move all the more alarming: Though seeing no ready chance to push its philosophy forward, the Justice Department was nevertheless keen to declare its Second Amendment turnabout.

Guess what—the DoJ is arguing that the wording of the second amendment (the people) is the same individual right that has been interpreted in EVERY OTHER CONTEXT to be an individual right.

What next? It all depends upon the court. Chances are slim that it will take up either of the gun cases now before it, especially against the government's recommendation. But several justices are known to be itching for a chance to undo the 1939 precedent — and Ashcroft has made clear he'll do whatever he can to help. Sooner or later, the amendment is likely to get its day in court. If Ashcroft's view prevails, all sorts of modest gun-control laws could be at risk.

Modest gun controls such as the wholesale banning of weapons (such as the Morton Grove, Illinois law)? Laws that act as a de facto ban on guns, such as the arcane licensing requirements in Washington, DC and New York? 15 day waiting periods in California, instead of the 3 days for which most gun grabbing groups agitated? Laws that ban weapons based on appearance, or specific model? Laws that ban the sale of affordable home protection for low-income people to protect themselves? These are all laws that the Strib undoubtedly supports, that many argue are unconstitutional. If I am gauging the writer's attitude correctly, he probably objects to *any* gun law being overturned, personal liberties be damned.

It takes nerve to chuck a government stance that has prevailed for more than six decades — and a fair bit of audacity. Ashcroft's move is proof, if any were needed, of his brazen willingness to exploit his power to promote personal agendas. That's exactly what nominee Ashcroft told a Senate confirmation committee he'd never do.

Yeah, "separate but equal" was a real winner for 62 years, until the court threw it out. I guess that the Eisenhower administration was brazenly abusing its power when it called in the national guard to escort those black kids to school. For shame.

The Strib seems to be aiming to become the Midwest's version of the New York Times—all the bias that is fit to print. But that seems to be common to several McClatchey papers—the Bees in California (Sacramento, Modesto, and Fresno) are all of the same mold, too, but they don't have the influence of the Minnesota paper.

posted on May 11, 2002 06:06 PM


Chicago, too, for the record.

No handguns allowed -- period.

Which means that if I did excercise my 2nd amendment right and owned a handgun -- and I'm not saying I do -- I'd be a criminal and subject to up to a year in jail.

posted by Christopher (Spoons) Kanis on May 11, 2002 10:17 PM

Well, editorials are supposed to be biased, but I always prefer when they at least have logic and facts somewhere inside. This editorial was a mess. Nice takedown.

posted by susanna on May 12, 2002 07:46 AM

The Supreme Court in US v Miller (1939) said that, to be protected by the Second Amendment, a weapon must have some military use, and there was no evidence before the court that a short shotgun is such a weapon. (And so the District Court acted prematurely in dismissing, and had to start over. Only by this time Jack Miller had died or vanished.)

Had they said that only members of the National Guard have a right to keep & bear arms, that would be wrong; but they didn't, no matter how many people say so.

posted by Anton Sherwood on May 14, 2002 04:03 AM

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