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Sheer Madness


Yesterday, Friday, March 9 may well go down as a very bleak day in D.C. history. Yesterday, two judges made a decision that has the potential to expose thousands of local lives to grave danger. Those two judges — Laurence H. Silberman and Thomas B. Griffith — were the majority on a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that heard the appeal in a case brought by six D.C. residents who sought to overturn the District of Columbia’s ban on the private possession of handguns. D.C.’s law is one of the strictest in the nation.

The plaintiffs had legal assistance and support from the Cato Institute and the National Rifle Association.

The lower court — the U.S. District Court — threw the case out. The plaintiffs appealed, and the Appeals Court agreed with them that the D.C. ban on handguns — a law in effect since 1976 — violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. One judge on the three-judge panel of the Appeals Court, Karen LeCraft Henderson, dissented from the majority opinion.

D.C. will appeal this ruling, so the law remains in effect until that appeal is heard at the U.S. Supreme Court, which may take years.

People who like the idea of citizens possessing guns to “defend” themselves are hailing this as a great victory for “civil rights.” This kind of claim reminds me of nothing so much as a Lewis Carroll tale in which words lose their meaning, and everything through the looking glass becomes the opposite of what the words are supposed to mean.

There’s no conceivable justice or freedom in a society where everyone lives as an armed combatant, ready to shoot at will whomever may appear to be a threat. cf. Baghdad 2007. Read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for an allegory of a society that has devolved into such a state of fear and lawlessness.

Some people who are hailing this decision are claiming that the D.C. law was ineffective, that gun violence has continued all these years in the city, that police responses are too slow, that criminals know how to get guns anyway so the ban just prevents “lawful” people from protecting themselves. My gun will make me safe by giving me the power to shoot people who pose a threat to me, so the reasoning seems to go.

What a great failure of moral reasoning! What hard evidence of the breakdown in confidence in governmental institutions whose essential first task is to protect the social order! When a society gets to a point where people are using the language of liberty to defend the impulse to do violence to another person, under the guise of self-protection, we have reached a very low state, indeed. In the name of my freedom, I will build my bunker against the world.

Our life’s work at Trinity is dedicated to the idea that we can improve the conditions of human society through cultivation of the intellect through education, that we can forge just solutions to human problems through the thoughtful, moral application of knowledge. The continuing prevalence of crime, particularly in the most impoverished neighborhoods in the nation’s capital, is surely a devastating human problem in the richest nation the world has ever known. But arming the citizens of the city against each other is most certainly a quick path to even more destruction.

To say that the response to the problem of violence must be even more violence is sheer madness.

Read Parker v. District of Columbia


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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: