Norton Sticks to Her Guns

D.C. delegate calls Supreme Court decision a win

By P.J. Orvetti
|  Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010  |  Updated 9:01 AM EDT
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Norton Sticks to Her Guns

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Washington, DC, Mayor Adrian Fenty (L) speaks as U.S. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) (R) listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill February 26, 2009 in Washington, DC. The U.S. Senate earlier passed the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act.

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D.C. congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is calling the Supreme Court’s Tuesday gun ruling a win.

In a letter to her House and Senate Democratic colleagues, Norton writes that McDonald v. City of Chicago “appears to sanction gun laws like the new and revised gun laws that the District of Columbia enacted after the Court overturned the District's prior laws in District of Columbia v. Heller.”

This may sound like a surprise coming from a gun control advocate like Norton, especially in the wake of frenzied and oversimplified media coverage of the 5-4 ruling. On ABC World News Tuesday night, for example, Terry Moran reported that the Supreme Court “ended gun control as we know it in America” and “awarded a huge victory to gun owners and the National Rifle Association by making the Second Amendment right to bear arms a private, individual civil right.”

But the actual ruling was not that sweeping. The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre quickly warned that the “constitutional victory” could be “turned into a practical defeat.”

That’s because the Court said that while local and state governments must heed the Second Amendment, the Constitution “by no means eliminates their ability to devise solutions to social problems that suit local needs and values.” This means some gun control is permissible, as long as the fundamental right to bear arms is acknowledged.

Paul Helmke, who heads the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, also called it a win, saying the Court affirmed that the “Second Amendment individual right to possess guns in the home for self-defense does not prevent our elected representatives from enacting common-sense gun laws to protect our communities from gun violence.”

The McDonald ruling, like the Heller ruling that preceded it, is a sensible middle ground that affirms the right to self defense and private gun ownership while reflecting the reality of gun-related crime and violence. Just as the First Amendment does not protect the right to shout “fire” in a crowded theater, the Second Amendment does not protect the right to fire at will.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, said the right to keep and bear arms is not “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” The Court said that prohibitions on carrying guns in schools or government buildings, for example, and regulations on gun sales, are permissible and sensible.

Though the ruling was first cast as the work of wild-eyed right wing Court ideologues by some observers, the reality is that it is a nuanced decision that reflects both rights and reality.

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