Guns Over Girls (and Boys)
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
-Second Amendment to the United States Constitution
Even though an unprecedented leak of a pending Supreme Court decision that would eventually overturn a woman’s right to choose in governing her own body, seemingly established in 1973 in Roe v. Wade, made such a result an eventuality, it still came as a shock when it actually happened last week. Concluding that Roe was wrongfully decided as not based in the Constitution, the majority, in an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, took the rare step of revoking a right that it had explicitly granted nearly a half century ago.
In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Alito cited every possible source, including an 18th century jurist who presided over witchcraft trials and a distorted economic view of women’s progress that includes the easy ability to abandon a child for adoption purposes, to demonstrate that a right of privacy does not reside in our founding document. Nor, according to Alito, can the rights of due process or equal protection be used as a basis for establishing a woman’s right to determine her own bodily integrity.
Well the grieving citizens of Uvalde, Texas must be shaking their heads over that supposedly pro-life reasoning as the Court, almost in the same breath, struck down a New York State gun restriction based on its reading of the vague language of the Second Amendment as creating an almost unfettered right to own a hand gun for self-defense purposes. In that case, Alito, in his concurring opinion, felt the need to point out that the New York rule would not have prevented the previous week’s massacre, in a Buffalo supermarket, as if the efficacy of a law or regulation undercuts its intended and beneficial purpose. Once again, the rights of the unborn are held in higher regard than those who are already alive, not least the 19 innocent school children (and two of their teachers) who could not be spared from the depraved acts of an 18 year old boy with legal access to a weapon of war.
The truth is that this Court is not the disinterested “umpire calling balls and strikes,” as Chief Justice Roberts claimed in his confirmation hearings, but has evolved into the mouthpiece of the extreme right, including the all-powerful gun lobby, as it seeks to impose a substantive social agenda in this country, potentially including the dissolution of rights that the conservative majority finds inconvenient to its moralistic viewpoint. The fact that Justice Thomas in his concurrence in Dobbs questioned the basis of prior Court rulings on contraceptives, same sex relationships and marriage makes the threat to those seemingly concrete precedents real. Thomas is no longer an outlier on this Court, as his love of guns, religion and Black self-determination move increasingly into the mainstream of the Court’s collective thinking.
While the immediate impact of Dobbs appears neutral, and almost sounds reasonable in returning the abortion debate back to the states, the reality is that at least half the states have either essentially banned the procedure or have put severe restrictions on a woman’s right to choose whether or not to bear a child. And a federal ban in a radical Republican Congress after this year’s midterm elections is not beyond the realm of possibility. Despite Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s protestations, the Court’s decision looks very much like a political hack job.
A very tiny bi-partisan step to implement reasonable gun control measures was signed into law by President Biden last week but represents the bare minimum in addressing our national scourge and hardly puts a dent into the Court’s sweeping ruling on the scope of the Second Amendment. It also is likely the last step this and any Congress in the immediate future will take. Together the Dobbs and gun control cases represent a new nadir in the Court’s standing. I can’t recap the Court’s work last week better than Arianna Huffington on Twitter: “So, to sum up the Supreme Court’s week: life begins at conception and ends in a mass shooting.”