On this weekend’s broadcast of “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace asked Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to react to the possibility that gun laws might change in the wake of the shooting tragedy in Aurora, Colorado earlier this month.
Wallace wanted to know how much power state governments and legislatures had to regulate firearms, including semiautomatic weapons.
“What the opinion in [District of Columbia v. Heller] said is that it will have to be decided in future cases what limitations upon the right to keep and bear arms are permissible,” Scalia said. “Some undoubtedly are because there were some that were acknowledged at the time [of the writing of the Constitution] … so, yes, there are some limitations that can be imposed. What they are will depend on what the society understood were reasonable limitations at the time.”
When Wallace asked whether the Second Amendment permitted even weapons that could fire hundreds of rounds in a minute, Scalia paused.
“We’ll see,” Scalia responded. “Obviously, the amendment does not apply to arms that cannot be hand-carried. It’s ‘to keep and bear,’ so it doesn’t apply to cannons. But I suppose there are hand-held rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes, that will have to be decided.”
As a textualist known for basing his jurisprudence strictly on the Constitution’s words, rather than attempts to divine the document’s intent, Scalia said he would have to consider the issue “very carefully.”
“My starting point and probably my ending point will be what limitations are within the understood limitations that the society had at the time,” Scalia said. “They had some limitations on the nature of arms that could be bought. So we’ll see what those limitations are as applied to modern weapons.”