Shooting straight

I happened to be up in the resort town of Charlevoix a week ago, the day the right-wing ideologues on the U.S. Supreme Court made it inevitable that more 4-year-olds will be accidentally shot to death in their own homes.

That's no exaggeration. What the highest court in the universe actually did on June 26 was overturn a sensible local ordinance in the District of Columbia that outlawed the keeping of handguns at home. The black robes did that based on a clear distortion of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which was designed to allow you to keep a musket handy in case the sheriff needed you if the Redcoats came back or the Native Americans attacked.

If you haven't read it, the amendment actually says:

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."

That's it. But somehow, five Supreme Court justices interpreted that to mean the Founding Fathers in 1791 firmly believed that, centuries after they died, any drunken lout should have a constitutional right to keep a loaded, automatic Glock killing machine under his pillow. Which is, of course, insane.

There is no way that you can say that what we call "arms" today bear any resemblance to the "Arms" mentioned in the Second Amendment. The Founding Fathers' idea of modern weaponry was a single-shot musket that was accurate at a distance of maybe 50 feet, and which had to be slowly reloaded each time.

The citizens commonly hung them over their fireplaces, or at least Walt Disney told us so. I have no problem with allowing every household to have a 1790s blunderbuss. But the current Supreme Court ruling is outrageous.

And by the way, it should shut up every crank conservative who complains about "liberal judges legislating from the bench." Anybody who sees in the text of the Second Amendment a message that a city can't prohibit hand-held murder machines is a master craftsman of spin. Roe vs. Wade pales in comparison.

But this nutball ruling should have surprised no one, given that this was essentially the group of judges who improperly installed George W. Bush in December 2000 by stopping the Florida recount just before he was counted out. (The two new judges are as right wing — or even more conservative — than the ones they replaced.)

Nobody can pretend to know exactly what an Al Gore or, for that matter, a John Kerry presidency would have looked like. But we do know that this crazy handgun ruling would not have happened. That's because neither of them would have named John Roberts or Samuel Alito to the high court.

Now, we are stuck with them. And now for the truly scary part: Chief Justice Roberts may well be there for another 30 years; he's only 53, and these appointments are for life. That ought to worry you, and here's something that should worry you much more: There are four good, moderate justices who voted against this travesty, and against raping the Constitution to install Bush.

They are John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Steven Breyer. Occasionally, on some issues, Anthony Kennedy joins with them and they manage to beat the four hard-right wackos; Roberts, Alito, Antonin Scalia, and that intellectual heavyweight, Clarence Thomas.

Yet of the moderate four, three are thought likely to leave the court in the next few years. Souter is said to hate it. Ginsburg has serious health issues. Stevens is — can you believe it? — 88 years old. John McCain has said that if he wins, he'll appoint judges in the mold of Roberts and Alito.

That means we could have a hard right, 7-2 majority on the Supreme Court by 2011 or earlier. How would that make you feel? I suppose great, if you aspired to be a back alley abortionist, because reproductive rights would be gone before you can say D&C. And as for civil liberties, bye-bye.

All of which makes what I saw on CNN that same night utterly baffling. Larry King had several women on who had been fervent Hillary Clinton supporters, and some of them actually said that rather than switch to the man who won the nomination, Barack Obama, they intended to vote for McCain.

How seriously insane can they be? You really cannot blame Hillary for this; she has apparently been nothing but a loyal team player since she finally was forced to bow to the inevitable. You also can't blame women, especially older women, for feeling that their sex was, once again, denied their turn.

If Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton were still alive, this would all seem very familiar; those early feminists were outraged when, following the Civil War, black men were given the vote while women had to wait another 55 years. But to support McCain is to be against everything Hillary Clinton has ever stood for. If you want to know his attitude towards women, read the story on his wife in the June 30 Newsweek. (The cover photo of Cindy McCain is the single most devastating picture I have seen in a lifetime of watching politics.)

Barack Obama has a strong, sexy, feminist wife who has a Harvard law degree, makes a six-figure income and yet seems to be a devoted and involved mother of two little girls. I have a hunch she would be an awesome advocate for women in the White House, not to mention a tremendous role model.

Last weekend I bumped into former Gov. William Milliken in Traverse City, who, though a Republican, cared very deeply about the environment and Detroit. He isn't endorsing anyone at this point, but he mused: "Can you imagine if a year from now, foreign leaders come to the White House and are greeted by a president and a first lady who are both African-American?"

Then that famous elfin grin crept over his face.

"Wouldn't that be great?"

Good news out of Lansing:
In a rare show of actual, sensible bipartisan cooperation, both houses of the Legislature finally managed to compromise and pass the Great Lakes compact, designed to prevent greedy businessmen from draining the water out of the lakes to sell it elsewhere.

If Pennsylvania follows, as expected, all eight states surrounding the lakes will have backed the pact, which then needs to be approved by Congress. That's something that badly needs to happen, soon.

Personally I think the current bills still allow too much water to be diverted — a company could still suck up as much as 5 million gallons a day. And the bills do not protect groundwater.

But they are an essential start. Credit ought to go to state Rep. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) and state Sen. Patty Birkholz (R-Saugatuck) for behaving like adults throughout the process. On the other hand, the Legislature recessed without taking action to complete passage of the bills that would ban smoking entirely in restaurants, though both houses have approved this.

Somebody needs to pressure them to get this done. Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, a man generally regarded as Darth Vader without the charm, only reluctantly allowed a vote on this at all, thanks to pressure from decent sorts like his GOP colleague, Dr. Tom George of Kalamazoo. Too many people have died of second-hand smoke, and I worry about dirty tricks behind the scenes.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]
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