Perhaps it was his attempt at balance, but CNN's Bill Mears cast a cloud over the constitutional right to keep and bear arms by stacking his March 18 article about today's District of Columbia v. Heller case in "personal" terms that focused heavily on the victim of a tragic school shooting. What's more, Mears put the constitutional language about the right to keep and bear arms within the dreaded dismissive quote marks (emphasis mine):
Shelly Parker wants to know why she cannot keep a handgun in her house. As a single woman she has been threatened by neighborhood drug dealers in a city where violent crime rates are on the rise.
"In the event that someone does get in my home, I would have no defense, except maybe throw my paper towels at them," she said. But Parker lives in the nation's capital, which does not allow its residents to possess handguns.
Elilta "Lily" Habtu thinks that is how it should be. She knows about gun violence firsthand, surviving bullets to the head and arm fired by the Virginia Tech University shooter nearly a year ago.
"There has to be tighter gun control; we can't let another Virginia Tech to happen," she said. "And we're just not doing it, we're sitting around, we're doing nothing. We let the opportunity arise for more massacres."
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will consider whether Washington's sweeping ban on handgun ownership violates an individual's constitutional right to "keep and bear arms," setting the stage for a potentially monumental legal and social battle, just in time for the 2008 elections.
Could you imagine a journalist writing about a disputed constitutional right "peaceably to assemble" or to "freedom of speech"?
Mears pitted Parker, who lives in fear of violence by armed criminals against Habtu who "knows about gun violence firsthand."
The term "gun violence," of course, is favored by gun control groups to depersonalize the actions of criminals and vilify the inanimate weapon, the gun. Yet it's constitutional language about the right to keep and bear arms, not a politically-loaded catchphrase, that earned dismissive quote marks in Mears' article.
Yes, Habtu is a victim of a crime committed with a firearm and as a journalist Mears should present her point of view, but Ms. Parker, though not a victim/survivor of an armed attack, lives in fear of retribution from armed thugs due to her work to clean up her neighborhood:
She said her community activism earned her the anger of local drug dealers, who vandalized her property and made repeated verbal threats and taunts. After her car window was broken, she called police, who offered some friendly advice.
"I said to the police, 'I have an alarm, I have bars, I have a dog, what more am I supposed to do?" recalled Parker. "The police turned to me and said, 'Get a gun.' "
It's safe to say Ms. Parker lives in fear of "gun violence" at the hands of criminals but that she believes in an additional option to protect herself against it, an option that her local government is striving to withhold from her. Of course, that's a fine point that removes the powerful sway of emotion from the gun control debate.
Mears opted to close his story with one final shot at gun rights, giving Habtu the final word in this "personal" Court case (emphasis mine):
"No one here is trying to fight against your right to have a gun," she said in a soft voice. "What we want is for dangerous people not to get access to one, and today it is just too easy. We cannot keep sacrificing innocent people because you have a fear that you're not going to have your right to own a gun."