Res Ipsa Loquitur

Proving his point that judges are too ignorant to make reasoned decisions about gun control, Justice Stephen Breyer demonstrates his complete ignorance about guns:

Does the right to possess weapons for self-defense extend outside the home? To the car? To work? What sort of guns are necessary for self-defense? Handguns? Rifles? Semiautomatic weapons? When is a gun semi-automatic?

Any textualist would tell Justice Breyer to read a basic firearms manual. Any gun owner would tell Justice Breyer that a vast number of the guns owned in America are semiautomatic. A semiautomatic gun is one which dispenses precisely one round with each press of the trigger and loads the next round by mechanical pressure. Semiautomatic firearms are owned by millions of law-abiding hunters and homeowners, and even by policemen. God only knows what J-Dog would tell him.

Perhaps Justice Breyer, and his equally ignorant clerks, meant to raise the specter of fully automatic firearms, which dispense rounds in multiple bursts or until exhausted of ammunition, as with machine guns, squad automatic weapons, and the like. There is no reason to believe that the five Justices who held for the petitioners in McDonald v. Chicago, one of whom I have it on good authority hunts and knows the difference, will ever overturn the federal ban on civilian ownership of machine guns. At least not until they're made obsolete by blasters and phased plasma rifles, in forty watt range (which I'm assured are ideal for home defense).

Perhaps our most serious constitutional defect isn't the Second Amendment, but Article III, which grants astonishing power for life to highly educated men and women, even when those people prove, again and again, that their educations don't mean a damned thing.

But I doubt Justice Breyer would go that far.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. MadRocketScientist says

    It would be nice if persons who would deign to fashion laws about a thing (like guns), actually spend a little time learning about said things.

  2. Patrick says

    Justice Breyer made up his mind at a cocktail party in New York in the late 1970s, during a debate with Norman Mailer about whether the film "The Warriors" should be banned because it encouraged gang violence.

    Scratch that. He made it up the instant he was admitted to Hahvahd Law. But he did it in a fully reasoned and informed fashion, after careful examination of all of the facts and law.

  3. says

    I'm as dubious about the claim that Breyer does not know what a semiautomatic weapon is as I was about the claim that Roberts (IIRC) didn't understand texting. I read the question – one of a long series of future hypotheticals – as something that may be ambiguous to a future judge or a future legislature.

    Perhaps I am giving him too much credit because I expect that this dissent was circulated and seen by a number of Justices and clerks before publication, not all of whom are gun-ignorant, and if there was reason to change it to keep him from looking the fool he'd have taken it. Perhaps it is because I "knew" what semiautomatic meant but also probably would have waited for a colleague to ring in if the question came up in College Bowl. Either way, I think it is probably wanting to heckle him that gives his series of questions the most ungenerous possible reading.

  4. Andrew says

    Do Supreme Court opinions usually include long lists of rhetorical questions? It's almost always a lousy way to make a point.

    In any case, the proper definition of weaponry is an issue of critical importance as our planet creeps toward the apocalypse. I've been dumping skill points into Energy Weapons, but what happens if the court re-classifies my L30 Gatling Laser as a Big Gun? Does Justice Breyer expect me to take on the super-mutants of the wasteland with a mere Plasma Pistol?

  5. Patrick says

    But Charles. even under your charitable reading, as opposed to my scornful reading, he still looks the fool.

    What are we to take from this?

  6. LawMonkey says

    Note that there's no ban on civilian ownership of fully automatic weapons. You've gotta buy your $200 tax stamp, and, as I recall, you get a pretty thorough background check. But so long as you do that, you can own as many as you like.

    What there is a ban on, and I'm sort of vague on the specifics, is the importation or production of any new machine guns for civilian purchase. Which makes the existing ones really, really expensive.

    FWIW, can't much figure that either's in any danger of constitutional challenge, and it doesn't really change the fact that this is not perhaps Breyer's finest hour. Just picking nits.

  7. Al says

    From what I hear he was just trying to troll the gun forums back into the old "Does a revolver count as semi-auto?" debates.

  8. says

    Well, I'd tell him that he's an idiot; the difference is pretty basic.

    The most interesting aspect of this is Sotomayor; I guess her statement that she believed that the 2A recognized an individual right is, err, "inoperative."