It’s now about 10:30 A.M. and I have already received at least a dozen emails from various gun-control groups warning me about the ‘threat’ posed by the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the SCOTUS and asking me to cough up some dough and help my friends in Gun-control Nation to keep this avowed 2nd-Amendment supporter off the high bench.
You can argue of course that any judge nominated by #45 is going to be a supporter of gun ‘rights.’ Or at least he won’t be some flaming liberal who will decide every gun case the way Hillary Clinton would like to see it done. But leaving aside for the moment the histrionics which always accompany the process for filling a vacancy on the High Court, I’m going to take the argument about Kavanaugh’s approach to gun laws seriously and do the one thing which probably no advocate on either side has actually done; namely, to look at the single gun case in which Kavanaugh participated since he went to the Federal bench.
I’m talking about Heller II, a case which was brought against the refusal of DC’s municipal authorities to grant Heller and other residents the legal right to keep an AR-15 rifle in their homes. Because even though it’s often forgotten or simply ignored, the 2008 Heller decision which reversed long-standing legal precedent and granted Constitutional protection for privately-owned guns applied only to handguns, and never conferred ownership ‘rights’ to long guns at all.
In 2010, to years after Heller I was decided, Gun-nut Nation went back into court and not only challenged the District’s actual process for granting legal access to guns, but asked that the requirement that now allowed District residents to own handguns apply to long guns as well. By a split, 2 – 1 decision, the Court told the District to rewrite its argument in support of the licensing process for all guns, but also upheld the District’s continued ban on the ownership of certain types of long guns, in particular the AR-15.
Now it happens to be literally true that Kavanaugh says the D.C. registration process and its ban on AR rifles are both ‘unconstitutional.’ But if you take the trouble to read his 46-page dissent, you will discover that this judgement isn’t based on his views about the 2nd Amendment per se, but rather, how he understands the 2008 Heller case. And frankly, I wish that more of my friends in both Gun-nut Nation and Gun-control Nation would stop indulging themselves in endless rhetorical nonsense about what the 2nd Amendment means. Let me break it to you gently – it means whatever the last SCOTUS decision says it means, okay?
So Kavanaugh starts off by making this clear: He says, “Our sole job is to faithfully apply Heller and the approach it set forth for analyzing gun bans and regulations.” But then he gets into trouble by saying that the District’s ban on AR rifles is ‘unconstitutional’ because “There is no meaningful or persuasive constitutional distinction between semi-automatic handguns and semiautomatic rifles.”
Oops. It sure didn’t take Kavanaugh long to invent some Constitutional rhetoric himself. The Heller decision focused only on handguns because the plaintiff, Dick Heller, appealed a law that only covered handgun ownership, a point explicitly made by Scalia In Heller I and echoed by the majority opinion in Heller II. If Kavanaugh decided to take it upon himself to discuss the issue of what kind of guns were covered by the phrase ‘keep and bear arms,’ that’s fine. But such a decision in no way automatically means that any and all types of guns had Constitutional protection just because the SCOTUS majority gave such protection to handguns in 2008.
I’m not trying to nitpick away the reasons why Kavanaugh may be or may not be pro-gun. What I am saying is that in considering his record to fill a seat on the Supreme Court he deserves to be taken at his word, and so far when it comes to guns, his word is mixed