Saturday, February 10, 2024

Hawaii Supreme Court disproves the usual American interprtation of its 2nd Amendment

The Hawaii Supreme Court may have sounded the death knell for the much-ridiculed (by the rest of the world, anyway) United States Second Amendment.

Used by Republicans and small-c conservatives to justify their gun fetish, the Second Amendment purportedly gives Americans the unfettered right to have and use firearms. The US Supreme Court has repeatedly protected that right by using a literal originalist interpretation of the 1791 amendment to the United States Constitution.

But the Hawaii Supreme Court has put a very different interpretation on the exact same words that also appear in Hawaii's own Constitution. In a unanimous 5-0 decision, the Hawaii Supreme Court argues that the US Supreme Court just got it completely wrong, repeatedly, and offered a robust explanation of exactly why. Consequently, it is now illegal to carry guns in Hawaii without a permit.

Without going into too much legalese, the Hawaii court argued that, rather than granting individuals the right to bear arms, the 18th century language actually refers to the right of a militia to bear arms in order to protect itself. It argued that the US Supreme Court in its previous decisions has cherry-picked historical evidence and discarded historical facts that don't fit its beliefs.

Moreover, it also argued that, anyway, it's just not practical, feasible or wise to use history as the only guide to constitutional interpretation, particularly given that it was written by a bunch of misogynistic slave-owning dead white guys. It makes as much sense as an originalist interpretation of the Bible, most of which has no relevance to the lives we live in the 21st century (and yes, many conservatives do that too).

The Hawaii decision does not actually overrule the US Supreme Court's interpretation (except in Hawaii). But surely it provides ammunition towards future contestations of the standard (conservative) interpretation of this and many other elements of the US Constitution.

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