Guns and Judges: Electing the Supreme Court in 2008

Sandy Froman

5/15/2008 12:00:52 AM - Sandy Froman

The political “hot button” issues of guns and judges have become intertwined in this election year. The fate of both issues will be decided by the candidate we elect as president. Why? Because over a four-year term, that president will likely appoint at least two and possibly three justices to the United States Supreme Court. Simply stated, this year when we elect a president, we will also cast our ballot for the next Supreme Court.

Everyone concerned about the Second Amendment and judicial accountability should heed John McCain’s speech to the NRA on May 16. The presumptive Republican nominee will speak directly to guns owners about the Second Amendment at the NRA’s Celebration of American Values event at the NRA Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky.

And in America today, there has never been a greater opportunity or a greater threat to gun rights. In March, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the watershed case of District of Columbia v. Heller, a lawsuit challenging the DC gun ban. Residents of the District of Columbia are categorically prohibited from possessing handguns and operable long guns (rifles and shotguns) in their homes, even for self-defense.

The Heller case turns on whether the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms refers to private, law-abiding citizens, or whether it is a right of the people “collectively” to have guns only when they serve in the National Guard or a state-sponsored militia unit. The Court is scheduled to decide the case the third week in June.

Whatever the Court decides, that decision will shape gun rights in America for generations to come. The Heller decision will become the definitive standard for gun rights in America. The Second Amendment is the insurance policy on American liberty. And whether you own guns or not, you cannot afford for a single minute to think that it doesn’t matter to you, your family or the security of this country.

Just like other controversial decisions, such as those on religious liberty and free speech, the Heller decision will lead to many more questions than it answers.

When the Court decided Everson v. Board of Education in 1947 it created the doctrine of separation of church and state. For over 60 years this nation has grappled with what that doctrine means, in a raging cultural battle.

When the Court declared a previously unnoticed right to abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973, America’s courts and presidential politics were thrust into an issue that still stirs deep passions and is ever present in political debates.

From now on, the same will be true of the Second Amendment. The Heller decision will launch 30 years of defining the nature and scope of gun rights in our courts. The Heller holding will likely be narrow, and will leave open countless other questions, such as what kinds of guns are protected, how far that right extends beyond your home, and whether the Second Amendment controls state law. At least some of these questions will find their way up to the Supreme Court years later. Who sits on the Court when those cases arrive matters a great deal to those of us who believe in the value of widespread lawful gun ownership in America.

That’s why the 2008 presidential election has unprecedented importance for gun owners. Despite their campaign rhetoric purporting to support the right to keep and bear arms, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are categorically opposed to our Second Amendment rights. Hillary Clinton opposed the 2005 tort reform law that saved the American gun industry from bankruptcy. Barack Obama has declared his opposition to all concealed carry laws. He has refused to repudiate his answer to a 1996 questionnaire, where he answered “yes” to a question asking if he supported laws banning “the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns.” And Senator Obama’s true contempt for gun owners came out when he described us as “clinging” to our guns out of bitterness.

In contrast, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain joined bipartisan majorities on a Congressional amicus brief in the Supreme Court in DC v. Heller for the proposition that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. Both Clinton and Obama refused to sign that brief, instead supporting the District of Columbia’s law that prohibits its law-abiding residents from possessing any operable firearm at home, even for self-defense.

The president of the United States appoints all federal judges. Senator McCain has stated he will appoint justices like John Roberts and Sam Alito, and Antonin Scalia, all of whom seem likely to vote to uphold individual gun rights. Senator Obama, on the other hand, has promised to nominate liberal judicial activists and wants the Court to uphold the DC gun ban.

So who Americans elect as president this year will determine the fate of the Second Amendment. In electing a president we also elect a Supreme Court, and in the coming years the makeup of the High Court will be crucial in defining our rights.

For that reason I’m honored to serve on Senator McCain’s Justice Advisory Committee, and will do everything I can to make sure that America’s 90 million gun owners elect a president who will appoint Supreme Court justices faithful to the text of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Second Amendment.

Gun owners are very sensible people. America’s heartland is filled with people devoted to faith, family and classic American values like lawful gun ownership for hunting, recreation and self-defense. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama could learn a lot from them, but I doubt they’ll be joining us at the NRA convention.