Lining up for Guns

The landmark legal battle over the 2nd Amendment is still two days—and two cold nights—away. But people already are waiting in line to get a prized seat in the courtroom for the historic arguments.

Jason McCrory, 23, and Dan Mott, 21, started the line at exactly 5:35 p.m. Sunday. I know, because I happened to be standing out front myself, getting ready to file a report about the case for World News.

“Here’s your story,” a Supreme Court police officer yelled over to me, pointing to a sport utility vehicle that stopped across the street. Out came two guys with a bunch of stuff--rolled up blankets, plastic bags of water--and within minutes they’d found a spot at the foot of the Court’s steps and settled in for the long haul.

Let me tell you, it already was pretty cold and-- as anyone who happened to see my World News piece knows—absurdly windy. But Jason and Dan were unfazed. Jason pulled on a fur hat. Dan wrapped up in a blanket.

They’d come down from Lancaster, Pa. because they have pretty strong opinions about the 2nd Amendment.

“The 2nd Amendment is important to me,” said Jason, who just graduated with a degree in political science from Millersville University and is working construction until he gets a job more suited to the degree. “It’s intended for people to defend themselves.”

Added Dan: “We’re constitutional supporters.”

And that, both said, means they support the idea that the 2nd Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to own a gun.

Before long, they were talking to a guy from Phoenix who had just gotten into town for the arguments. He and a friend had gone straight to the Court from the airport, and he was planning to camp outside, too.

If you had any doubt this was a big case—if the scores of legal briefs on both sides hadn’t convinced you---there’s more proof, sitting right outside the Courtroom tonight.

Long lines mean big cases that stir deep emotions. And you can be sure that line is going to get longer and longer as it gets closer and closer to 10 a.m. Tuesday.

That’s when the Court, for the first time in 70 years, will confront one of the most vexing constitutional questions: Does the 2nd Amendment protect an individual’s right to “keep and bear arms” or does it only protect a state’s right to a “well regulated militia?”

The people in front of the Court tonight adamantly believe it protects an individual’s right, as do most members of Congress, the Bush Administration and—according to the polls—a vast majority of the American people.

But officials in Washington D.C., which bans handguns and has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, argue otherwise. And most of the federal appeals courts have agreed that it only protects a state’s right to assemble a militia. That interpretation means, of course, that the government can ban guns if it wants to.

Tuesday, we’ll hear for the first time from the justices, and their questions to the lawyers may finally give us some sense of how they’re thinking about this case. We sure don’t have much to go on now.

There’s no precedent, no past Supreme Court cases, to guide them. The briefs are voluminous, but take wildly divergent positions. The justices literally will be writing on a blank slate. And people on both sides—those sitting in line outside and those listening at home--think it’s absolutely clear what they should write.

The 2nd Amendment protects an individual right to own a gun. The 2nd Amendment protects a state’s right to form a militia.

But which one?

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