As courts around the country seemingly go out of their way to declare that bans on semi-automatic firearms are constitutional (a federal judge in Massachusetts being the latest to proclaim that guns deemed “assault weapons” have no Second Amendment protections), it’s worth revisiting what Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Justice Antonin Scalia had to say about this.
When the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case challenging a semi-automatic ban in Highland Park, Ill., Justice Thomas penned a stinging dissent, and Scalia joined him in his criticism. Thomas wrote that courts upholding the ban were in essence rewriting the Heller decision, noting that in that case the Supreme Court excluded only “those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.” The Second Amendment, according to Thomas’ explanation, protects “an independent, individual right. Its scope is defined not by what the militia needs, but by what private citizens commonly possess.” Since millions of Americans lawfully possess semi-automatic rifles and shotguns for a variety of lawful purposes, Thomas reasoned, under Supreme Court precedent “that is all that is needed for citizens to have a right under the Second Amendment to keep such weapons.”
Thomas cautioned his colleagues on the Supreme Court that by not taking up the gun ban in Highland Park, they were “relegating the Second Amendment to a second-class right.” Unfortunately, we’ve seen other courts around the country use the same twisted logic as the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold similar bans in other states. Thomas is correct—it’s past time for the Supreme Court to rise from its Second Amendment slumber and set the record straight on semi-automatic long guns. You have the right to keep them, you have the right to bear them, and any judge who says otherwise is ignoring the Constitution and the clear direction of the Supreme Court.