No layman has had time today, I suspect, to read through all the opinions issued in the District of Columbia gun-rights case, but I'm linking to them so those who are interested can peruse them at their leisure. The news reports this as a major ruling, apparently the first definitive assertion by the Supreme Court of an individual right to own firearms for self-defense or hunting purposes. Justice Scalia's majority opinion puts forward a lot of learning to prove that the Second Amendment's famous "well-regulated militia" clause does not limit the scope of the uninfringable right to keep and bear arms. I'm not sure I fully buy his argument. My main problem with what I've read is his assertion that the amendment acknowledges a pre-existing right, while at the same time he states that the amendment "confers" the right. Which is it? Since I don't buy into natural-rights discourse, I have to question whether the Constitution recognizes pre-existing rights. If you accept Scalia's reasoning, you open the door for him to base his understanding of constitutional gun rights on the unwritten text of the pre-existing law. It looks like he's superimposing his own notion of the individual's natural right to self-defense upon the actual text, but his notes inform me that the Court has done this sort of thing before in other contexts. Liberals and conservatives alike have appealed to pre-existing rights when it's served their respective agendas.
I've read a few books on the Second Amendment, and I've offered my own tentative interpretations of it in the past, but I'm not about to say I know more about the subject than any of the nine justices. Instead, I'm inclined to accept today's ruling as proof that constitutional arguments for gun control are a dead end. It was probably futile all along to hope that an 18th century charter could mandate meaningful gun control. What was needed all along, and is obviously needed now, is a thorough revision of the Second Amendment in light of the social realities of the 21st century. That will be hard work, with nothing certain but constant struggle with a determined and fanatic opposition. True gun control offends the primal instincts of American-style conservatism, which is, at or near its heart, all about the individual's desire to save himself before everything else. But those instincts have to be conquered if we're going to achieve a civilized society.
Think about this: some nut went postal in Kentucky yesterday and killed five people before offing himself. A gun-rights fanatic will tell you that, even if you took his gun away, he'd still have killed people. But would he have killed five people with a knife or a club? The difference between that man with his gun and him without is evidence for gun control, being necessary for the security of a civilized state.