Wednesday, March 19, 2008

DC v Heller - Transcript

The Supreme Court heard DC v Heller yesterday, and last week and Tuesday I gave you some places to look at the commentary. (Also see Michael Bane's DownRange TV summary here.)

The transcript is now publicly available, on the NRA website and a lot of other places. For your convenience I've also made the PDF version available to you here.

(Adobe Reader needed to read it, you can download the latest version here.)

The transcript is in legal format, and although it is 110 pages long the file is only 409KB so it should download fairly quickly.

No, I haven't read the whole thing. I've read the first dozen pages where Walter Dellinger (the attorney for DC) presented his arguments for the District of Columbia. My first impression is that the Justices interrupted his presentation 'frequently' (read: 'a lot'), usually keeping Dellinger off-balance with the need to respond to their questions and often side-tracking him until he lost the thread of his theme.

Even Justice Kennedy seemed almost confrontational.

According to Jim Shepherd of The Shooting Wire (who attended, and who wrote a summary today), Justice Clarence Thomas had not a word to say. This is his usual practice.
"As is his custom, Justice Clarence Thomas did not speak during the arguments, but has gone on record in favor of the individual right interpretation."

Shepherd also described an incident which occurred as he was interviewing Dick Heller, "the defendant of the case"*:
Speaking with him [Dick Heller] on the Supreme Court steps after the arguments - and his long question-and-answer period with the media, I asked him how he felt about “his” lawsuit.

"It's a simple case to me," Heller said, "It is wrong for the government to tell me that it is OK for me to have a gun during my work hours, but illegal for me to have a gun when the only thing I want to protect is me."

At that point, a reporter interjected: "the Mayor (DC Mayor Adrian M. Fenty) says the handgun ban and his initiatives have significantly lowered violent crime in the District. How do you answer that, Mr. Heller?"

The initial answer certainly wasn't expected - Dick Heller laughed. Ruefully.

Pointing at the Mayor who was making his way across the plaza, surrounded by at least six DC police officers, Heller said, "the Mayor doesn't know what he's talking about."

"He doesn't walk on the street like an average citizen. Look at him; he travels with an army of police officers as bodyguards - to keep him safe. But he says that I don't have the right to be a force of one to protect myself. Does he look like he thinks the streets are safe?"

There was no follow-up question.

[* NOTE: in the transcript, the "District of Columbia, Et Al" is identified as "The Petitioners"; Dick Anthony Heller would be "the Respondent". Heller's attorney of record, Alan Gura, is identified as speaking "on behalf of the Respondent". Because I intuitively understood that Heller was challenging DC, I would have thought him to be the "Petitioner", which would make the District of Columbia the "Respondent". As I have mentioned before, I am clearly no Constitutional Scholar, nor am I trained in legal matters. ]

How do we interpret this?

I don't know how you choose to prognosticate on the case, but anything I could say would only be an expression of hopeful yearnings. I yearn to be positive about the future of the Second Amendment; I hope that the Supreme Court determines that it defines an 'individual right' (as do all other items in the Bill of Rights).

What I expect is a little more middle-of-the-road-ish":
  • In the best possible case, the Supremes (whose final decision isn't expected before June) cannot rule in a manner which will throw every existing Gun Control Law -- rumored to be on the order of 20,000 laws -- out the window and expect the States to fit their 'local preferences' into a new framework. Some of those laws will have to be accommodated in order to avoid total anarchy.
  • I expect that restrictions will not be added to the private purchases of firearms which do not involve a 'dealer' (possessor of a FFL - Federal Firearms License).
  • I expect that the purchases of firearms from 'dealers' will still have to pass a background check.
  • I expect that these processes will continue to disallow sale to felons, certifiable madmen, etc.
  • I expect that the decision will NOT address the current trend toward State limitations on the availability of ammunition (Encoded Ammunition) nor on State requirements that firearms be fitted with a means of marking ammunition during firing (Microstamping). The sly Gun Control crowd have cleverly anticipated a Federal ruling on outright attacks on the Second Amendment; they started their Second Front years ago, to restrict access to ammunition.
Beyond that, your guess is at least as good as mine. If you're a congenital pessimist, your guess is probably better.

I hope not.

We've had our best shot (sorry) at judicial relief from the constant barrage of arbitrary and agenda-driven attacks on the Constitution. We don't have the luxury of writing our Congress-critters to petition for redress; it's up to one clench-jaw woman and 8 old men, all robed in black dresses, to decide whether we are a free people or subjects.

The Brits blew it. I sincerely believe that our system of government is superior.

Check back here in July, where there will either be a Happy Dance Party, or a pronounced gnashing of teeth.

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