Clarence Thomas' Gun Rights Dissent Post-Florida Shooting Is Truly Something To Behold
The Supreme Court refused to hear a case this week that questioned California's 10-day waiting period for anyone seeking to buy a gun, and one justice was really pissed off about that. Justice Clarence Thomas delivered a heated dissent about gun rights, speculating that his colleagues would have voted to review a similar 10-day waiting period for abortions. The timing was less than ideal, too: Thomas called gun rights a "constitutional orphan" less than a week after a gunman killed 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
In choosing not to hear Silvester v. Becerra, the Supreme Court allowed California's 10-day waiting period for gun sales to remain intact. A gun owner with the backing of a gun-rights organization originally challenged the law on the grounds that the 10-day "cooling off" period was too long, and wouldn't make a difference in the case of someone who already owned a gun.
Thomas agreed, writing in his 14-page dissent: "Common sense suggests that subsequent purchasers contemplating violence or self-harm would use the gun they already own, instead of taking all the steps to legally buy a new one in California." Thomas did more than simply offer his opinion on the case, however. He also criticized his fellow justices for avoiding gun cases.
Thomas' dissent focused on the fact that the Supreme Court hasn't heard a major Second Amendment case since 2008. That's when the court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to keep guns at home. However, that decision didn't prohibit firearm regulations, like those prohibiting guns in schools or government buildings.
Thomas wrote that in Columbia v. Heller, the court "declared that the Second Amendment is not a 'second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.'" He added that, "By refusing to review decisions like the one below, we undermine that declaration."
The mention of abortion cases (abortion came up four times in Thomas' dissent, to be exact) in particular seemed out of place. Thomas shored up his argument that the court would have heard Silvester v. Becerra had it been about abortion rather than guns by listing previous cases the court did hear about doing away with 24-hour waiting periods for abortions. "The Court would take these cases because abortion, speech, and the Fourth Amendment are three of its favored rights," he wrote. "The right to keep and bear arms is apparently this Court’s constitutional orphan."
It's important to note here that 43 states prohibit abortions after a certain point, meaning waiting periods could mean the difference between someone legally obtaining an abortion or not. If someone is cleared to buy a gun after a 10-day "cooling off" period, there'd be no other legal limitation preventing them from doing so at that point.
The justice's strongly pro-gun opinion came six days after 17 people died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the third mass shooting in a U.S. school this year. Since last week's tragedy, survivors have called on politicians to strengthen gun laws in order to prevent more American students from dying in their classrooms. Thomas' argument that the right to keep and bear arms is the Supreme Court’s "constitutional orphan" runs right up against the Parkland survivors' argument that it's too easy for dangerous people to legally buy guns in the U.S.
Thomas was alone in his dissent — every other justice agreed not to hear the Silvester v. Becerra case. His fiery opinion made clear that even in the aftermath of a horrific mass shooting, he believes his colleagues aren't giving gun rights their fair day in court.