Arms and the citizen

Thus, in the view of the four dissenting justices, the constitutional right to own a gun was not an individual right, analogous to the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech or the right to counsel, but an instrumental right designed for a very specific and now largely obsolete purpose.

In a world in which there are now organised and well-armed police forces, national guards and standing armies, there is no longer any need for a citizen militia, and such entities no longer exist in the US or in most other nations of the world. The need for individuals to own a gun in order to serve in the militia, which was critical in the 1790s, is now moot.

All that is left, then, is the question of whether there is a fundamental personal right to own a gun for the sake of owning a gun, and on that question the nations of the world are in agreement — there is no such fundamental right, any more than there is a fundamental constitutional right to grow marijuana, to skydive, to drive 80 miles an hour or to own a pet lion.

By distorting the text and meaning of the Second Amendment and ignoring the common sense judgement of the rest of the civilised world, the five conservative justices fed into and reinforced the frenzy about gun ownership in America. And by preventing American citizens from engaging freely in the democratic process to decide for themselves what controls on guns are most sensible, those five justices tragically and needlessly set America apart from the rest of the civilised world — with predictable consequences. Perversely, a constitutional provision intended to keep us safe has been twisted by the conservative justices of the Supreme Court into one that endangers our children.

The writer is the Edward H. Levi distinguished service, professor of law at the University of

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