Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I just couldn't help myself...

I saw these two headlines on an internet news service, and I knew I couldn't wait two weeks before saying something.

First headline: Stem Cell Breakthrough Diffuses Debate

Scientists have created the equivalent of embryonic stem cells from ordinary skin cells, a breakthrough that could someday produce new treatments for disease without the explosive moral questions of embyro cloning.

Research teams in the United States and Japan showed that a simple lab technique can rival the complex and highly controversial idea of extracting stem cells from cloned embryos.

Gut Reaction: "Finally!"

Thoughtful Reaction: "Will it really be accepted?"

There are some flaws in the technique. The primary one being that in the transition process, the DNA of the skin cells is altered thus increasing the risk of forming cancer. Because of this risk, human applications are being delayed. The developers of the technique feel that this side-effect can be avoided with some changes to the technique.

Overall, this is wonderful news. The technique is cheaper than clone harvesting, a large number of potential of skin cell donors and ease of procurement means a larger pool of stem cells available for research and treatment, and the need for the cloning of babies and abortions to harvest stem cells is removed. It seems to be a win-win all around.

Second Headline: High Court to Weigh Ban on Gun Ownership


The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will decide whether the District of Columbia can ban handguns, a case that could produce the most in-depth examination of the constitutional right to "keep and bear arms" in nearly 70 years...

...The government of Washington, D.C., is asking the court to uphold its 31-year ban on handgun ownership in the face of a federal appeals court ruling that struck down the ban as incompatible with the Second Amendment. Tuesday's announcement was widely expected, especially after both the District and the man who challenged the handgun ban asked for the high court review.

The main issue before the justices is whether the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to own guns or instead merely sets forth the collective right of states to maintain militias. The former interpretation would permit fewer restrictions on gun ownership.

Gut Reaction: What?!

Thoughtful Reaction: What?!

At first, I was simply amazed that this case even got this far. The Constitution clearly states in the Second Amendment:

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.

When the Second Amendment was first proposed, many, including James Madison, expressed concern over what the term "militia" meant and what exactly the amendment was proposing. In a letter to Mr. Madison, Tench Coxe, a delegate to the Continental Congress from Pennsylvania, pointed Mr. Madison to a series of articles he had written in the under the pseudonym "A Pennsylvanian." On June 18, 1789, the (Philadelphia) Federal Gazette(Philadelphia) Federal Gazette ran the article "Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution" by Tench Coxe (aka "A Pennsylvanian") which read, in part:

The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible. Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American ...the unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.
The militia, who are in fact the effective part of the people at large, will render many troops quite unnecessary. They will form a powerful check upon the regular troops, and will generally be sufficient to over-awe them.
Whereas civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as military forces, which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms.

We are the people. The amendment gives the people the right to keep and bear arms. We are the militia. The amendment confirms the necessity of a well regulated militia and is therefore confirming that the removal of the right of the citizenry to own guns ("and every other terrible implement of the soldier" according to Coxe) is not up to the government. If fact, government prohibition of weapon ownership is strictly prohibited.

James Madison himself, in Federalist Paper No. 46, when addressing the concern over the federal government's ability to call up and control the militia (or the greater fear, maintenance of a standing army with the increased ability for government oppression), states that this fear is impractical since the populace of America will be armed:

Those who are best acquainted with the last successful resistance of this country against the British arms, will be most inclined to deny the possibility of it. Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.

That this is even being contested amazes me, but another fact in the case stuck out to me. Did you see it? "
The government of Washington, D.C., is asking the court to uphold its 31-year ban on handgun ownership in the face of a federal appeals court ruling that struck down the ban as incompatible with the Second Amendment." Thirty-one year ban?! How did this ban pass in the first place? Why did it take this long for someone to contest it? I find this scary.

I'll be keeping my eye on this scientific breakthrough and the upcoming Supreme Court case. In the meantime, back to work. The finish line looms larger than yesterday and will be larger still tomorrow. (Plus, I need my rest so I can clean my house for Thanksgiving guests.)

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