June 26, 2008

Unbearable Logic

Not only did the Supreme Court give us a wonderful decision this morning?overturning the District of Columbia?s unconstitutional, not to mention completely ineffectual, restriction on gun rights?but to top it off, it gave us an opinion written by the incomparable Antonin Scalia.

Scalia is a master of the art of close reading, and there are few better, in any discipline, at exploding opposing arguments through reductio ad absurdum?the Scalia way is to restate the logic of one?s adversary cleansed of all sentiment and ambiguity and then sit back and enjoy it as he frantically backtracks??Well, I didn?t mean that, I?m just trying to uphold law and order??

And Scalia does it with wit and ?lan. 

The 2nd Amendment?s guarantee of ?the right of the people to keep and bear Arms? has often been interpreted to mean that Americans have the right to bear arms within the context of military service, ?the well regulated Militia? of amendment?s opening clause. And Justice Stevens takes up this old ruse in his dissent. But as Scalia points out, such a restriction of meaning is inaccurate not only historically but grammatically

[Accepting Stevens?s argument,] the phrase ?keep and bear Arms? would be incoherent.  The word ?Arms? would have two different meanings at once: ?weapons? (as the object of ?keep?) and (as the object of ?bear?) one-half of an idiom [to ?bear arms?].  It would be rather like saying ?He filled and kicked the bucket? to mean ?He filled the bucket and died.? Grotesque.

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