Monday, June 30, 2008

Gays and guns?

I have often felt tempted to drop a line about this curious US case, where the US Supreme Court has overruled a strict handgun bad in Washington DC.

The constitutionality of gun control in the US is of course fascinating and long running and slightly odd for us Europeans where a) we have by long tradition believed in the State's monopoly of violence (a la Weber) and b) we are struggling with both gun and knife crime - as is the US for that matter.

Well the whole gun control agenda has just hit the buffers big time in the Heller ruling issued 5 years to the day to Lawrence v Texas.

Various right wing gay groups are in favour of the right for gay people to carry arms:

  • The Constitution allows people to bear arms and form a militia - this can't be the regular army as gay people are - for the time being - excluded from it (an argument enough in itself to send the right on the Court rushing to support the individual right to bear arms)
  • Gay people are at much higher risk from lethal and near lethal 'gay bashing' - carrying arms means they will be able to defend themselves effectively (right to life) and if more gay people carry guns - and make that known - this will make people think twice before making a physical attack.
  • Groups such as Pink Pistols (who made a submission to the Supreme Court on these lines) encourage gay people to get trained in the use of fire arms and carry them to the extent the law allows.
So they you have it. You might be safer with a gun but of course the risk of 'gun inflation' (we probably have that anyway) and cases of both accidental use and people running amok and killing many people (as in recent school cases - e.g. Columbine). Most commentators think carrying a gun (or a knife for that matter) actually makes you less safe - mainly because such weapons are not easy to use effectively in self defence and make you more likely to stay and fight instead of getting out of the situation.

There are two further cross cutting issues in this:

  • The ability of States to have a certain latitude to define laws in their own remit (states' rights) - in this case the Court over rules States' own legislation (under some circumstances - not all gun laws are invalidated).
  • Different ways of construing the Constitution (living document versus the original document as intended at the time) there is in this case a literal words of the 2nd Amendment, although, in this case it is the words of the Amendment and their import that is the key issue, without much constitutional precedent to weigh up (in this case Heller is now the constitutional precedent in this matter).
The mere fact that there are people wanting recourse to violent means to protect themselves from physical violence means there is a huge need for our laws to eradicate homophobia and transphobia and for police forces and local government to work towards effective prevention of violent hate crime.

I am sure this is the better way to address the problem - but this is maybe an example of how far apart are the US and Europe in such matters.

A nice rejoinder to the case (and critique of the conservative justices' judicial activism - usually pinned onto pro-gay rulings of any kind by the right) in E.J. Dionne's piece in the Washington Post:

I also hope this decision opens people's eyes to the fact that judicial activism is now a habit of the right, not the left, and that "originalism" is too often a sophisticated cover for ideological decision-making by conservative judges.

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