Originally Trump supported gun control
Ten dead at a school in Santa Fe, shot by a 17-year-old classmate. Immediately the memories of the Parkland high school massacre are back. The latest act joins the long list of mass killings in the United States.
While all politicians, from the US President downwards, appear dismayed and promise to protect the students and teachers, despite the shock, the youngest activists do not seem to be giving up, but want to keep fighting.
Because after the massacre at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida something got moving: students themselves organized the "March for our Lives" in the US capital Washington, hundreds of thousands, especially young people, took part in the demonstrations Hundreds of cities participated.
After even Donald Trump, who had received massive support from the gun lobby during the election campaign, showed a certain openness to stricter laws, the NRA made its strongest argument - alongside its budget of millions and the addresses of millions of members. You only defend the basic right of all US citizens to have, which is finally set in the "Second Amendment", the second amendment to the United States Constitution since 1791. And conversely, the Parkland students and the other organizers of the demos are simply "enemies of the constitution".
It would be understandable if those who want to restrict gun ownership in the USA were frustrated by these developments and the images from Texas. Especially since their opponents have the constitution on their side. But do they actually have that?
The matter only seems that clear since a ruling by the Supreme Court in 2008. And the emphasis is on the word "seems".
Ten years ago the US Supreme Court first gave an answer to the question of whether the right to individual gun possession actually results from the "Second Amendment". The occasion was the lawsuit brought by a resident of Washington D.C. against a local law from 1975, according to which the possession of weapons in the capital - more precisely: District of Columbia - was forbidden. According to the plaintiff, this would violate the Second Amendment.
The judgment in this "District of Columbia v. Heller" case was formulated by the late conservative judge Antonin Scalia, and he agreed with the plaintiff, who was supported by the gun lobby, as well as by conservatives and libertarians. However, the relationship between approval and rejection among the judges of the Supreme Court already shows that the matter has not been clearly clarified. Four of the nine top lawyers in the United States interpreted the second amendment differently than the other five - and voted no.
Ambiguous thanks to the commas
To understand why the decision is so difficult, one has to take a look at the original text: "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. "
Trying to translate this statement correctly, with its strange sentence structure and unusual commas, quickly reveals where the problem lies. The parts of the sentence separated by the punctuation marks are difficult to put into a clear context today.
Must gun ownership not be restricted - that is, can every US citizen carry guns at any time - to ensure that the state can quickly set up a militia in a military context? Or can it even be deduced from the second part of the sentence that weapons can also be carried completely independently of the question of the military context?
Or should it only be clarified in principle that everyone who is a member of a militia can of course also carry weapons?
Before the Supreme Court's decision, experts in linguistics and English had stated that the use of language in the 18th century tended to indicate that gun ownership could not be separated from the "well-ordered militia", as Princeton historian Jan-Werner Müller recently wrote in the SZ has analyzed. Scalia and four other judges just hadn't been impressed.
There is ample evidence that the US Constitution so clearly does not allow gun ownership for all citizens. Warren E. Burger, who was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court until 1986, rejected the idea that there was a constitutional right to own guns as "fraudulent".
Literally he said in a 1991 interview that he considered it "one of the greatest pieces of fraud - I repeat the word fraud - on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime". ("... one of the greatest cases of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, against the American people by lobbyists that I have seen in my entire life".)
The example of the later US President Ronald Reagan shows how remote the idea of unrestricted gun ownership was for everyone in the 1960s. As the governor of California, the Republican was forced to enact stricter rules - because blacks also invoked the Second Amendment.
When activists of the black "Black Panther" civil rights movement began to patrol the streets armed and when African-Americans even marched into the Capitol in Sacramento legally with loaded rifles, the "Mulford Act"passed. This made it illegal to carry loaded weapons in public in California.
So while the matter is not that clear, conservative politicians and the US gun lobby have consistently and successfully invoked the Second Amendment to delay and dilute laws aimed at restricting the possession or carrying of firearms.
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