Supreme Court responds to Senate generational statement on guns with one of its own

Supporters say the new bill, which the House is expected to pass on Friday, will save thousands of lives. It contained several key aims of gun safety advocates and was pushed over the line amid public revulsion after the recent massacres in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, State of New York.

But his stint in the Senate was accompanied by an even more strident display of the power of the pro-gun movement, after the conservative majority of the United States Supreme Court dealt a blow to states’ ability to restrict the carrying weapons outside the home. By tossing out a long-established New York law, the High Court has opened the door to a possible gun future with few Second Amendment limits, which critics say will inflate the endless epidemic of deaths. by gun in America.

The two political victories that unfolded on Thursday were the result of diligent and long-term activism. The Senate vote on guns might not have happened without the engagement of parents of children murdered at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 and a high school in Parkland, Connecticut. Florida in 2018 and the bravery of the bereaved Buffalo family members. and Uvalde who pushed Congress to act at a recent hearing.

Thursday’s Supreme Court opinion was also the product of a generational political campaign, in this case by conservatives who have struggled for decades in successive presidential elections to remake the court so that a right-wing majority be prepared to tear up a century-old law like the one in New York. Justice Clarence Thomas, for example, who wrote Thursday’s majority opinion, was appointed by President George HW Bush in 1991 and quietly waited for more liberal times for his right-wing jurisprudence and expansive views on guns dominate the court.

Clarence Thomas' Second Amendment ruling shows the power of the conservative supermajority

That America’s dueling visions of its purpose and the meaning of its founding values ​​are played out in rival long-term political campaigns is how it should work in a democracy, even if liberals scoff at the procedural quibble as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell employed to build the conservative majority on the ground.

Yet the emerging power of the court’s right-wing 6-3 bloc — not just on guns, but on abortion, on reducing government regulation and on criminal justice issues — suggests that a new era conservative is being born. And given the age of the judges, it could go on for decades and frustrate liberal political movements for a long time.

A landmark for gun safety advocates

The gun bill garnered the votes of 15 Republican senators largely because it was credible to claim that it did not curtail broad Second Amendment rights, even though zealots like the former President Donald Trump claimed it did.

The measure locks in long-sought Democratic victories on closing the “boyfriend loophole,” which would extend the gun ban to those convicted of domestic violence against romantic or intimate partners. The bill could make it take a little longer for people under 21 to buy guns – a nod to the fact that the Buffalo and Uvalde rampages were perpetrated by 18-year-olds years old who had bought guns legally. And it invests in mental health and crisis response measures. But it lacks changes demanded by some Uvalde victims and President Joe Biden, such as an assault weapons ban.
Here's what's in the bipartisan gun safety bill

Still, the measure is significant because it dismantles the notion that trying to pass gun restrictions in Congress is futile, given Republican dedication to the gun lobby. Activists hope this could prove to GOP lawmakers that they can vote to improve gun safety and still retain their seats.

“We are on the cusp of the cathartic moment in Congress that we have been waiting for for a generation,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, a gun reform group, after an earlier procedural vote, which was itself staggering even, given that 15 GOP senators joined the Democratic majority.

It’s impossible to know, but if the law had been in place before Uvalde or Buffalo, it might have been able to avoid the tragedies. It could thwart a future massacre, and if it saves lives, it’s worth it despite its modest scale.

But given the Supreme Court’s unfettered interpretation of the Second Amendment in its majority opinion on Thursday, the bill may also be a harbinger of the limited ways future legislation may attempt to address mass shootings. mass – in other words, by not restricting the availability of weapons themselves, but by legislating around them. As it stands, it appears the measure passed on Thursday would not be affected by the Thomas ruling — a testament in part to its limited scope.

A moment that Thomas waited for decades

Thomas’s opinion represented the court’s boldest decision against gun restrictions in years.

The veteran judge argued that New York’s law, which required people to show the government why they had to bear arms to defend themselves in public, was unconstitutional since citizens did not have to provide similar reasoning to exercise their rights. free speech rights under the First Amendment or their right to confront prosecution witnesses under the Sixth Amendment.

His decision cements a conservative doctrine that values ​​a literal reading of the Constitution. This reading, however, ignores modern mores, the reality of the nation’s agony in the face of gun violence caused by weapons the founders could never have contemplated, and mainstream public opinion on the need for control. reasonable firearms.

This was a point taken up by liberal Justice Stephen Breyer in his dissent. “In my view, when courts interpret the Second Amendment, it is constitutionally appropriate, indeed often necessary, that they consider the grave dangers and consequences of gun violence that lead states to regulate guns,” a- he writes.

He also argued that the majority approach raises the question of whether firearms will now simply be allowed everywhere and what the scope of powers to regulate them will be. “What about subways, nightclubs, cinemas and sports stadiums?” he asked in dissent.

Breyer’s point raises the possibility that in many more liberal states, where guns were allowed in homes but not necessarily in public, Americans will now have to get used to much more lax standards imposed by non-conservative judges. elected. The decision sparked ire from Democratic heads of state and law enforcement officials in New York and elsewhere, as well as Biden and supporters of tougher gun safety measures, who predicted that it would trigger widespread violence.

“This decision is deeply destructive to responsible gun violence prevention,” Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” “It will trigger gun violence in many communities across America because it justifies very, very broad rights to carry guns in public. It will lead to more guns in public and probably more dead and injured by firearms in public.”

A politicized court

Some critics have pointed out that such rulings prove the hyperpoliticization of the new Supreme Court majority.

For example, according to a draft notice leaked earlier this year, the court may be on the verge of overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade guaranteeing the constitutional right to abortion and sending rulings on whether a woman can terminate a pregnancy to the states to decide. Yet in the New York case, the court established exactly the opposite principle regarding state and local control, saying that local leaders cannot enact certain gun safety measures, even if that is what they want. their voters. On the face of it, this is illogical and seems suited to the political leanings of the right-wing movement. A conservative originalist jurist, however, would simply answer that there is no right to abortion in the Constitution, while the right to bear arms is clearly stated.

On the narrower issue of guns, Thursday’s judgment will likely lead to a cascade of lawsuits based on Thomas’ opinion targeting gun laws across the country. And lower court judges will now effectively be forced to adopt the conservative majority view that there is almost no limit to the Second Amendment.

If, as expected, the court acts to end abortion rights in the coming days, in addition to its controversial gun ruling, it will set off yet another storm against the enthusiasm of the conservative majority to use its new power. The court’s right wing is at odds with most public opinion on both issues, a fact that will further damage its already tarnished ability to present itself as above politics – and deepen questions about its legitimacy in the courts. eyes of millions of Americans. . Only 25% of Americans now say they have “a lot” or “somewhat” confidence in the Supreme Court, according to a Gallup poll released Thursday, which marks a new low.

Assuming no future president or Congress Democrat adopts the sweeping decision to expand the court to balance the conservative majority, the only remedy for frustrated liberals will be long-term politics. The conservative majority has been built up over decades, and it would take just as long to dismantle it – over many presidential elections.

Until then, juxtapositions like Thursday’s — when a moderate, bipartisan political success on an issue like guns is undone by the power of the Supreme Court’s right-wing bloc — will be an enduring and dominant story of politics. American.

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