At least five Supreme Court justices understand what the Second Amendment says. The remaining four need a lesson in the meaning of liberty.

Earlier this week the high court ruled that handgun bans like the one in Chicago are unconstitutional. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said that the right to bear arms "applies equally to the federal government and the states."

Writing for the minority, Justice John Paul Stevens offered this whimper: "(this decision) could prove far more destructive -- quite literally -- to our nation's communities and to our constitutional structure."

I'm sure Otis McDonald and at least two other men will beg to differ with Stevens about how private ownership of handguns will be "destructive to our nation's communities." McDonald is the elderly Chicago resident who filed the lawsuit against Chicago's handgun ban that ended up in the Supreme Court. (McDonald makes us Second Amendment enthusiasts proud to be Americans.)

The second man is the 80-year-old Chicago Korean War vet who recently defended his home with a handgun when he fatally shot a burglar. The third is an elderly man in Perry Hall, Md., who did the same thing earlier this year.

McDonald and the other two men realize something the John Paul Stevenses of the country just don't get: That having the liberty to defend your life and your home is a fundamental American right. It's a right that is not to be compromised, not to be discussed or debated, and sure as hell not subject to the tortured logic and whims of people like Stevens.

Just what were those elderly heroes in Chicago and Perry Hall supposed to do when they were confronted with armed burglars? Call Stevens?

The part of Stevens' lament about the decision being "destructive to our constitutional structure" left me baffled at first, but then I figured out exactly what he meant. Stevens has a problem with justices who read the Constitution and base their rulings on the document as it's actually written.

You see, Stevens is -- or, more accurately at this point, was -- one of those justices I call "penumbra raiders." These are the justices who like to root around in what they call the "penumbra" of the Constitution, yank out those rights of which they approve and then bestow them upon the great unwashed.

That would be the rest of us.

Those rights -- like, say, for instance, the right to own a handgun to defend your home and person -- Stevens would just as well see remain rooted so deeply in the "penumbra" of the Constitution that they will be all but forgotten. This penumbra business got started in 1964.

Justice William O. Douglas was the culprit, writing the decision in Griswold v. Connecticut that struck down a law forbidding the sale of contraceptives to married couples.

In his majority opinion, Douglas wrote that the "specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance."

"Penumbra" Douglas' mischief led eventually to the ruling in Roe v. Wade, when the court struck down every abortion law in the country. Not an unborn child has been safe since.

Stevens is one of those justices who, over the years, voted to uphold Roe v. Wade. How he squares upholding a ruling that has led to the deaths of millions of unborn children and then has the gall to write about the "destructive" effect of the high court's decision earlier this week is beyond me. But I do know what to say to the departing Mr. Douglas:

Goodbye, good luck and good riddance.

Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.