Reactions to Heller Decision


Here’s a sampling of reactions to the D.C. V. Heller decision handed down Thursday.

Rupert Cornwell, The Independent (UK)

But suppose for an instant the justices had done the truly unexpected, and opposed individual handgun ownership. The NRA would have gone berserk; guns would be right, left and centre in the election campaign, and the authorities would be confronting the nightmare of 200 million-plus weapons out there, many of them now illegal. Now that would have been the stuff of banner headlines.

The real lesson of last week, obscured in the fog of jurisprudence, is another. In this most legalistic of countries, the ruling has demonstrated the vast importance of the Supreme Court. We have George Bush, who appointed two of the nine justices, to thank for the body’s present conservative tilt. But at least two, perhaps three, vacancies are likely soon. If a President Barack Obama can shift the balance back, it will be his most enduring legacy.

David E. Bernstein, Cato Institute

The Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, upholding the Second Amendment right of individuals to own firearms, should finally lay to rest the widespread myth that the defining difference between liberal and conservative justices is that the former support “individual rights” and “civil liberties,” while the latter routinely defer to government assertions of authority. The Heller dissent presents the remarkable spectacle of four liberal Supreme Court justices tying themselves into an intellectual knot to narrow the protections the Bill of Rights provides.

David Kopel, Independence Institute

One aspect of the Heller majority opinion that has not yet attracted the attention of commentariat, but may be greatly important of the long run, is the presence of natural law.

Heller reaffirms a point made in the 1876 Cruikshank case. The right to arms (unlike, say, the right to grand jury indictment) is not a right which is granted by the Constitution. It is a pre-existing natural right which is recognized and protected by the Constitution:


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, for the first time in the country’s history, that individual Americans have the right to own guns for personal use, and struck down a strict gun control law in the U.S. capital, Washington. Following are some facts about the case.

Bob Collins News Cut, Minnesota Public Radio

9:12 – As expected, Supreme Court overturns the DC gun ban. I’m steeling myself for a day of bad writing (“Court shoots down gun ban.”). Interesting that the court watches nailed the prediction that it would be overturned. They had calculated based on who wrote other non-related decisions in cases released the last couple of days, that Justice Scalia was writing the opinion. Justice Scalia did, in fact, write the opinion.

Lyle Denniston on SCOTUSblog:

While the declaration of the individual right was clear-cut, as was the decision’s nullification of key parts of the Washington, D.C., law, the Court did not lay down a standard for judging the constitutionality of any other federal laws — an omission that the dissenters attacked strongly. Even so, the opinion made it clear that, whatever ultimate test emerge, it probably would be a tough one to meet, at least when self-defense is at issue. As Justice Scalia put it, whatever remains for “future evaluation” about the strength of the right, “it surely elevates above all other interests the right of law-abiding responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.”

David Stout, New York Times:

Justice Scalia devoted page after page of his opinion to the various state constitutions and to the use of language in the 18th and 19th centuries to support his view that an individual right to bear arms is embodied in the Constitution. And Justice Scalia, who clearly takes pride in his writing as well as his reasoning, used adjectives like “frivolous” and “bizarre” to describe the other side’s arguments.

Not to be outdone, Justice Stevens called the majority’s interpretation of the Second Amendment “overwrought and novel” and said it “calls to mind the parable of the six blind men and the elephant,” in which each of the sightless men had a different conception of the animal.

Now, for Heller: Affirmed, quite naturally. Wow! It came down 5-4, with none of the traditionally ‘liberal’ Justices joining the pro-gun rights majority. Scalia must have written an incredibly strong majority opinion and the ‘conservatives’ must have been unwilling to budge.

Opinions are straight 5-4, one majority and two dissent. No concurring, partials. I’m surprised to see that happen. In a term where we’ve seen a remarkably low rate of 5-4 standard ideological splits, this clear delineation resonates loudly enough that I can hear it a thousand miles away.


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