As a member of the Junior ROTC, teenager Antonin Scalia toted his rifle on the subway ride back and forth to Queens. As a hunter, he speaks lyrically of stalking wild turkeys. And as a justice, he may have reached the pinnacle of his more than two decades on the Supreme Court when he wrote the majority opinion that said the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own a firearm.
But when the justices on Tuesday confront the question of whether the amendment applies to state and local governments — not just the federal government and its enclaves, such as the District of Columbia — the court’s most prominent gun enthusiast faces something of a constitutional quandary.
The most likely path to recognizing gun ownership as a fundamental right is one that has been heavily criticized by Scalia and other conservative scholars, and it seems inconsistent with his belief that the Constitution should be interpreted in terms of its framers’ “original meaning.”
The alternative, one embraced by an unlikely coalition of libertarian, liberal and some conservative scholars and activists, would apply the Bill of Rights to the states in a way they say is more grounded in the Constitution. But it is also a route that could open what is invariably described as a Pandora’s box of additional rights of citizenship — health care, for instance, or housing.
The debate comes in McDonald v. Chicago, a case with great significance just on the gun-control front. A decision that states and cities may not infringe upon the right to own a firearm for self-defense could eventually call into question all manner of restrictions on gun ownership and registration, limits on who is eligible to own a gun and whether the carrying of weapons can be regulated.
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