Some conservatives are freaking out because they think Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scali a, in an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News, is waffling on gun control and won't be as staunch a Second Amendment supporter as they had supposed he would be:
Scalia, who claims he interprets the Constitution only by examining the text and the laws and philosophies in place at the time it was written in 1787, said weapons laws in the newly-founded United States are a guide for dealing with semi-automatic rifles, 100-round magazines and other advances in firearms technology in the last 225 years.
Scalia, who is the longest-serving justice currently on the court, pointed to a law called 'frighting,' which prevented citizens from carrying certain weapons -- like beheading axes -- that were only meant to scare other people.
'That was, i believe, a misdemeanor. So yes, there were some limitations that can be imposed,' he told Fox News Sunday.
The Supreme Court took up gun control in 2008 with District of Columbia v Heller, when it struck down in a 5-4 decision a 1978 Washington DC law that prohibited citizens from owning handguns.
Writing for the majority, Scalia said at the time: 'The second amendment, means what it says. People have a right to bear arms.'
On Sunday he said the court's opinion did not decide which gun control laws are allowed -- only that cities and states cannot ban them entirely.
I think Scalia is just stating the obvious. No right is absolute; it must compete with other rights. Our rights under the Second Amendment must compete with our right to be safe and secure -- as much as we can be -- in our persons and property. How gun rights are seen in that light depends on our interpretations of the Constitution, current law, court precedents and historical context.
If I'm reading Scalia right, and I think I am, he bases his "contextual" approach largely on the bear part of right to keep and bear arms -- if it's something we can carry, like rifles, pistols and shotguns, then it's covered by the Second Amendment. If not, maybe not so much. His review of the material available to the founders has led him also to conclude that ordnance (explosives like hand grenades and things like flame throwers) would not be covered, either.
To me it's an interesting point to ponder how a contextualist should consider original intent. It's obvious that the founders did not have mere self-defense in mind, nor were they thinking about hunting. To them, the right to be armed was a necessary check against tyranny, and that meant chiefly an oppressive government. So what the Second Amendment meant to guarantee was that ordinary citizens could be roughly as armed as the average soldier. Weaponry has advanced to the point where citizen and soldier are nowhere near equivalency these days. Anybody care to argue that, given original intent, they should be? Anybody want to see that kind of weaponry floating around in the woods?