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The Supreme Court's decision today to overturn 69 years of case law on gun issues was not really a surprise, given its down the middle voting record. They went for something kind of middle of the road, weaselly really: they claim that the individual has a right to bear arms, but that it's somehow not an absolute right; the government can put reasonable restrictions on that right.

This ambiguity is inviting a boatload of challenges from anybody facing a gun charge in any jurisdiction across the country. When the Bush administration started throwing around the theory that the Second Amendment gave individuals the right to own any gun they wanted, the New York Times covered how defense lawyers immediately took up the cause, clogging the courts with Second Amendment challenges. Even the most hardened members of groups like Gun Owners of America, which thinks the NRA is weak, may pause before wiping out every weaponry law. Do we want felons owning machine guns? If the court had suddenly decided that the right to bear arms was both individual and absolute, imagine what would happen to our entire justice system?

I'm not going to get into debating the Second Amendment. I could write a book on the subject. And have. I do think the the justices, while giving in to the idea of individual right to gun ownership, also gave into reasonable regulation of guns. The justices write that "Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited." Then they say that other courts have already decided it's OK to ban carrying guns, bringing guns to school or "laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." While other rights only have small restrictions (you can't cry fire in a crowded theater, etc.), the restrictions they're putting on the right to bear arms are pretty large. Imagine if they thought the same way about religion (The government might say Catholicism was okay, but snake-handling was going too far.) The decision might be the right one for a political compromise and might even reflect the ambivalence we feel as a country, but if you're running a state or local government, you better get ready to spend some money defending your gun laws.

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