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What Does the Supreme Court Say About Restrictions on the Second Amendment?

by Countable | 2.22.18

In the wake of the recent school shooting in Parkland, FL the debate over restrictions on gun ownership and the extent to which they infringe on Americans’ Second Amendment rights has reignited. Given that passions are high on both sides of the issue, we thought it’d be informative to look at how the U.S. Supreme Court has approached cases related to gun rights.

The most recent landmark decision issued by the Supreme Court came in 2008’s Heller v. District of Columbia, which held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own a firearm for lawful purposes, such as self-defense. The case was related to Washington D.C.’s ban on handgun ownership and its requirement that rifles and shotguns be be kept "unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock" in the home — both of which were found to be unconstitutional.

The Heller decision also held that the right to gun ownership under the Second Amendment isn’t unlimited, meaning that it doesn’t permit individuals "to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose." The majority opinion, written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Chief Justice John Roberts held that:

"The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."

Two subsequent rulings have further reinforced the Heller decision and framed the legal landscape of the Second Amendment debate:

In McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010), the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment applies to states under the Constitution’s Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which clarified that the Heller ruling applies to states in the same way it applies to D.C. It was in response to a similar ban on handguns and regulations on rifles and shotguns imposed by the City of Chicago, which were found to be unconstitutional.

In Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016), the court unanimously ruled that the Second Amendment extends to "all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding, and that this Second Amendment right is fully applicable to the States." The case involved the state of Massachusetts’ ban on stun guns, which was found to be unconstitutional.

Since Caetano, the Supreme Court has declined to hear several Second Amendment appeals, including challenges to restrictions on the "open carry" of firearms in California and Florida, a ban on so-called “assault weapons” in Maryland, and most recently to California’s 10-day waiting period before a gun can be purchased. However, at some point in the future the Supreme Court could choose to take up such cases on appeal, and once again issue rulings that shape the role of the Second Amendment in America.

What do you think of the Supreme Court’s rulings on Second Amendment cases? Hit Take Action to tell your reps, then share your thoughts in the comments below!

— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: OGphoto / iStock)

Countable

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