Republicans Remain Nervous About Sotomayor and Gun Rights
Second Amendment rights remain high on the list of issues Republicans are still nervous about when it comes to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. But no matter how they try to over-simplify the still-undecided question of whether the Constitution actually grants individual citizens a fundamental right to bear arms, Sotomayor has, as expected, stood firm in not answering the question.
Since the high court struck down a Washington, D.C., handgun control law and found a fundamental right to bear arms, Republicans have been hopeful that the Court will take the next step and say that right applies to the states as well, and would therefore serve to severely restrict states’ rights to restrict gun possession and ownership. But it’s never answered that question — at least, not yet.
Here’s how Republican Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), an avid believer in his fundamental right to gun possession, tried to get Sotomayor to answer the question, and in the process revealing that much of this questioning is aimed at the senators’ constituents, not at any real fact-finding:
“Do I have a right to personal self defense?” asked Coburn.
Sotomayor struggled to think of whether the Supreme Court has addressed the question in that way in any case. “I can’t think of one. The issue of self defense is usually defined in criminal statutes by the states’ laws.”
“But do I personally have an individual right to self defense?” Coburn persisted, knowing full well that any right of self-defense depends on the circumstances and how you try to exercise that right.
“That’s an abstract question and not a particular legal question,” said Sotomayor, always careful to respond with legalistic precision.
“Well, that ‘s what the American people want to hear,” Coburn said. “Is it okay to defend yourself in your home when you’re under attack. The general theory is, do I have that right? I understand if you don’t want to answer,” he said, letting Sotomayor off the hook, implicitly acknowledging he didn’t really expect her to answer it. “That’s a fine answer with me. But that’s what people want to know. Do we have that right?”
Sotomayor proceeded to answer that it really does depend on the specific situation. For example, she said, if Coburn were to threaten to kill her right then and there, and she ran home and got a gun and came back and shot him, she probably would not have the right to do that.