From the desk of Bob Malkas: District of Columbia v. Heller


Local Voices

Bob Malkas

I am using Senator Ted Cruz’s book One Vote Away as a resource guide for this article. While reading the book I was reminded of a teaching technique I used in my Political Science classes at Mother of Sorrows High School. We laid out the facts, then stepped back and saw what would happen next. Always keeping order but leading the class to make decisions for themselves.

The book explains how a single U.S Supreme Court decision on cases brought before them changed history. Each case he addresses tells the reasoning used on issues that still are in the news today. Religious liberty, School Choice, Gun Rights, State Sovereignty, Abortion, Free Speech, Crime, and the Re-election Process.

I was able to apply my approach because the administration trusted my teaching skills and allowed me to do what they hired to do — make my students think for themselves, always knowing that I would be respecting the established guidelines of the school, not any government office, and to do what the parents expected for their children. When studying the U.S. Supreme Court, I would select one case that once decided changed existing national policy.

If I were teaching today that technique could propose a problem if I decided to use any chapter in Cruz’s book. Let me choose one for now — Gun Rights and District of Columbia v. Heller.

When our Constitution was formed the framers created a Bill of Rights to protect the most important liberties we hoped to enjoy as Americans in a newly formed nation. The Founders still had the specter of living under the rule of a British monarch and wanted to ensure that they would never have to do so again.

Dick Heller was a federal police officer who lived in Washington D.C. He carried a firearm to work and kept one at his home. D.C. had passed a law prohibiting that practice — basically banning firearms for private citizens.

Dick Heller brought a challenge against those laws in federal court because he said that they were inconsistent with the core protections defined in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The first lower court to consider the Heller case reasoned that the Second Amendment does not give a citizen the Constitutional Right to protect himself.

Thirteen states in the country decided to take the Heller case to a Court of Appeals. For my class the stage would be set. The students were instructed to take it from there and be ready to discuss their opinions in the next class. With the internet today at their disposal this would be an easy assignment.

I suggested they begin their research by first establishing a thesis. How did they feel from the start about Heller and project for themselves what the Supreme Court was to decide before they went further.

When the Supreme Court decision came down Dick Heller prevailed by a 5-4 vote. The majority decision was authored by Justice Antonin Scalia. It reasoned that Heller had the right to keep and bear arms and that the right had been addressed as part of the Second Amendment.

The Court had upheld an individual’s right to keep and bear arms and had struck down D.C. total bar on possessing a functional firearm at home.

Heller was only the beginning. But It laid down how the American political system was meant to proceed. After everyone had an opportunity to speak, I would do what Cruz did. Present the work of experts in the field and take the lesson further.

To support his position Cruz referred to economist John Lott who wrote a groundbreaking book in 1998, More Guns, Less Crime. Lott presented empirical data to demonstrate that disarming law-abiding citizens increases violent crimes.

I concluded my lesson by asking the students to decide for themselves.

Bob Malkas

Local Voices is our version of “Letters to the Editor.” The opinions posted here are those of the writers, and posting them does not indicate endorsement by The Lansing Journal. We welcome input from fellow residents who have thoughtful things to say about topics that are important to our community. Send your submissions to The Lansing Journal with “Voices” in the subject line.



  1. Good article Bob ! I am glad to always read you articles! Keep up the good work for Lansing Journal !

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