The cases in the ruling — Moore v. Madigan and Shepard v. Madigan (Lisa Madigan is Illinois attorney general) — involved an Illinois woman, Mary Shepard, who had been viciously attacked and beaten in the church where she worked as treasurer. She had concealed-carry licenses in Utah and Florida, and wanted one for self-protection in Illinois outside her home there.
Judge Posner's ruling, which reversed the lower courts, was based on two Supreme Court decisions — District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 and McDonald v. Chicago in 2010 — which found that the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to own and use weapons primarily for self-defense. That, he wrote, was at least as important outside the home as inside. The ruling was stayed for 180 days to give the state a chance to revise the law.
I think Judge Posner and the Supreme Court were right in saying the Second Amendment gives Americans an individual right to keep and use firearms. But when the Founders wrote and adopted it, the amendment was connected with a civic duty, to use those firearms for the common defense when militia duty called. Today, surely, law-abiding gun owners feel a civic responsibility to contribute to public safety, as President Barack Obama noted this week in his news conference.
Gun-rights lobbies say they do that by carrying weapons. Yet after Newtown, it is hard for most of us to understand how easy access to military-style, rapid-fire, semiautomatic weapons such as the one Adam Lanza used to kill all those children makes us safer. Even the National Rifle Association has said it is prepared to discuss ways "to make sure this never happens again."
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the 2008 Heller ruling, "Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." Those words are worth remembering.