Opinion

Greetings from the land of guns and religion

Pamela Varkony Contributor

It’s that time of year when postcards from traveling friends and family arrive in our mailbox with pretty pictures of beaches and mountains and captions like “Land of a thousand lakes” or “We do everything big in Texas” under the photo of a giant cowboy. On the back of the card usually a few scribbled thoughts like “Wish you here.”

In keeping with that summer tradition I thought I’d send along “Greetings from Pennsylvania.” You’ll have to use your imagination to see the full color photo of the Liberty Bell and the panoramic view of Independence Hall where 234 years ago our Founding Fathers created the Declaration of Independence. On the back of my postcard I’ve written a special message: “Having fun here in PA clinging to our guns and religion.”

Thanks to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling we may indeed keep our guns for some time to come. The relief, and speaking for myself, surprise, at the sweeping defense of the Second Amendment, albeit by a slim 5 to 4 margin, by this court, made the Fourth of July even more a cause for celebration.

What began two years ago in the landmark case District of Columbia v. Heller was reinforced and expanded in the June 28, 2010 ruling in McDonald v. City of Chicago where the court showed the strongest possible support for the Second Amendment, stating clearly that the right to keep and bear arms applies not only to self-defense within one’s home, even in a “federal enclave,” but to every jurisdiction in the nation.

Finding himself on the losing end of this most recent case, Chicago’s mayor, Richard M. Daley, as reported in the Christian Science Monitor, said he was “never giving up this fight” and that “They (the NRA) are stronger than Obama, Daley. They can’t be sued. They are the power of America…They give a lot of money to politicians.”

Excuse me while I enjoy a brief chuckle over a Chicago politician, a member of the fabled Daley dynasty no less, speaking disparagingly about organizations that give money to politicians.

The lower courts will now play an important role in defining when a municipal or state gun control law violates the Second Amendment. The McDonald ruling is not a carte blanche for everyone to be walking around with an Uzi. Within the majority opinion, Justice Alito wrote:

It is important to keep in mind that Heller, while striking down a law that prohibited the possession of handguns in the home, recognized that the right to keep and bear arms is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.

Pro-gun organizations, and there are many such local and statewide groups, outside of the NRA, will now become the watchdogs for their communities. The PA Firearms Owners Association, who bill themselves as “Pennsylvania’s largest pro-gun political action committee,” has a headline on its website regarding the McDonald decision, proclaiming, “We Win,” along with a request to “please take a few minutes to thank the members of the legislative branches of government who worked on our behalf to encourage the Supreme Court toward this position. I find it interesting that PAFOA publicly acknowledges the belief that a politician can “encourage” the Supreme Court toward a ruling; now that’s some serious lobbying. Equally fascinating are the names at the top of the list of those who supposedly did: Pennsylvania’s two Democratic Senators, Bob Casey and Arlen Specter.

Political affiliations aside, this recent victory should not be a reason for complacency. Supreme Court rulings can and have been altered and “reinterpreted” over time. Let us not forget that for the past twenty or so years, there were many assaults on the Second Amendment that argued the original intent applied only to citizen militias, and lacking the modern need for such militias, the amendment was moot.

Although Pennsylvania did not make the top twenty in the recent ranking of “The Most Armed States” based on NICS background checks, gun ownership and gun safety is a proud tradition in the land of “The Deer Hunter” and Lincoln’s “First Defenders.” This is a place where the spirit of the Founding Fathers lives, where it is not unusual for a high school to close for the start of hunting season, and where we take our history, our guns, and our religion very seriously.

Pamela Varkony is a writer, commentator, and native Pennsylvanian. Her work has taken her across four continents including two fact-finding missions to Afghanistan. Her blog is: http://perspectives.pamelavarkony.com.