When the Supreme Court struck down a ban on handguns by the District of Columbia in 2008, ruling that there is a constitutional right to keep a loaded handgun at home for self-defense, the decision was enormously controversial in the legal world. But the court’s conclusion has generally been accepted in the real world because the ruling was in tune with popular opinion — favoring Americans’ rights to own guns but also control of gun ownership.
The text of the Second Amendment creates no right to private possession of guns, but Justice Antonin Scalia found one in legal history for himself and the other four conservatives. He said the right is not outmoded even “in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem.”
It is not just liberals who have lambasted the ruling, but some prominent conservatives like Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The majority, he wrote, “read an ambiguous constitutional provision as creating a substantive right that the Court had never acknowledged in the more than two hundred years since the amendment’s enactment. The majority then used that same right to strike down a law passed by elected officials acting, rightly or wrongly, to preserve the safety of the citizenry.” He said the court undermined “conservative jurisprudence.”
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