http://news.yahoo.com/s/usatoday/20...ntbesettled;_ylt=AvAPwC0X1JegvN1J6zpzeRys0NUE By Don Campbell It's only 27 words: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. (Illustration by Sam Ward, USA TODAY) You will recognize that as the Second Amendment to the Constitution. If a student of mine wrote a sentence like that, I'd scrawl in the margin "WDTM," and he or she would recognize that as, "What does this mean?" Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court may — repeat "may" — lend some clarity to the meaning of an amendment written when men used muskets and flintlock pistols. Today, the justices will hear oral argument over an appeals court ruling that Washington, D.C.'s ban on private ownership of handguns is unconstitutional. Dozens of briefs have been filed on both sides of the case. The betting seems to be that the Supremes will rule broadly that Washington can impose reasonable regulations on handguns but can't ban them because "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" is an individual right, not a collective right reserved for those who serve in a modern-day militia. But the high court could also rule more narrowly on some aspect of the law, or even send the case back to a lower court for further review, as recommended by the Bush administration. I would favor the broad decision, but what I really hope is that the case will reopen a national debate about guns that patently aren't legitimate. Because the real problem is a spineless Congress, not the men and women who wear black robes. We have hundreds of state and local gun control laws in this country that are not limited by the Second Amendment, but not the kind of tough federal regulation we need. Guns I've owned This is not an anti-gun diatribe. I've owned guns since I got my first Red Ryder air rifle at the age of 8. As a teenager, I spent more time in the woods and fields with a gun than I did doing homework. (I even had a Dick Cheney moment when I was 16: My 20-gauge shotgun inexplicably discharged, blasting my friend Clifton from 10 feet with a load of #6 shot. His jacket took the brunt of it, but his left flank looked like a peppercorn pizza topped with a thin layer of mozzarella. It didn't make the newspapers.) So the issue for me is not about gun ownership. It's about too much firepower in the wrong hands, and too-easy access to guns by criminals and the mentally unstable through loopholes, such as gun shows where background checks are not required. The laws we need are blocked by a powerful lobby led by the National Rifle Association, whose idea of reasonable gun regulation is a prohibition on gun shows within the grounds of an insane asylum. Its argument is that any law is the camel's nose under the tent, as if the government didn't already have its nose in the most intricate aspects of our lives. This is the same lobby that worked overtime to scuttle a 1994 assault weapons ban that was riddled with loopholes and allowed to die by the Bush administration 10 years later despite near-unanimous support from law enforcement and 70%-80% of the American people — including a majority of gun owners. We need several measures that would guarantee the right to gun ownership for ordinary use — self-protection, hunting and target shooting — but keep assault weapons out of the hands of psychopaths and self-styled superpatriots preparing for their version of Armageddon. It's a complex subject, granted, because modern-day handguns and long guns can be modified and accessorized in countless ways. But if Congress had the guts to take the lead, it would appoint a commission of reasonable people who I believe would agree on: * The optimum firepower and configuration needed in a weapon to defend your home, bring down any critter from a quail to a moose or shred a paper target. * Banning civilian ownership of all automatic weapons and all semiautomatic weapons that hold more than six rounds of ammunition. Six rounds is enough for any serious hunter, let alone a gangbanger. * Tougher background checks on the mental history of all gun purchasers and requiring gun-show vendors to follow the same rules as federally licensed dealers. * A ban with no loopholes or grandfather clauses on any gun that doesn't meet these standards or isn't brought into compliance within two years, with the penalty thereafter of a hefty prison term for anyone found with such weapons. What, today, constitutes terrorism? Here's why (and I'm not going to recall all the small-scale gun massacres of the past decade): A man drove to the Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., last month with an AR-15 military assault rifle and 200 rounds of ammunition, intent on killing as many people as possible. He changed his mind at the last moment, but what if he hadn't? Even if he was a poor shot, he could have killed 50 or 100 people with those 200 rounds. The gun lobby would have described this as an unfortunate act by an obviously deranged individual. If the same man had driven to the arena with explosives strapped to his chest and blown himself and 50 or 100 others to bits, the gun lobby and everyone else would have described it as an unspeakable act of domestic terrorism. The only thing different is the reaction. An improvised explosive device is a weapon of terror; so is a military-style assault rifle in a civilian's hands. It's time we treated them the same, and the Supreme Court is not going to be of much help on that. Don Campbell is a lecturer in journalism at Emory University in Atlanta and a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors.