In March 2008 I chatted with a silver-haired law school professor under the marble pillars of the U.S. Supreme Court building. He was very excited. The court was to about hear Heller v. D.C. The case would decide whether the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects an individual right to own and carry guns. He had 20 law students with him. He said anxiously, “When I put in the paperwork to get seats months ago I didn’t know we’d get to see one of the last unresolved constitutional questions debated.” He said this while looking at a line of people hoping to get seats that went down the block, around a corner and out of sight.
Hours later a mainstream reporter next to me in the press section gasped, “Oh no,” when Justice Anthony Kennedy hinted that he believed the Second Amendment to be an individual right while asking the government’s attorney a question. Months later, when the high court ruled 5-4 that the Second Amendment protects an individual right from government infringement, the media was paying attention. Many, however, are missing what’s happening now. The Second Amendment is having its defining moment in history. The decisions now percolating up to the Supreme Court are deciding what guns the Second Amendment covers, when requirements become infringements and more.
Gun-rights and gun-control groups understand that these court decisions illustrate how much elections matter, as the federal judges making these decisions are nominated by the president and voted on by the senate. However, two recent federal court decisions from judges appointed by former president Bill Clinton show how difficult these decisions can be to handicap.