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

by Countable | Updated on 7.9.18

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

Written by Countable

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(96)
  • Donna
    02/22/2018
    ···

    None of the rights and freedoms protected under the Constitution are without restriction. They all have limits. Some are imposed by societal norms, some by laws. As the views of society change, so must the laws framed by the Constitution. Voting rights, civil rights, abortion, gay marriage are now accepted as normal because the majority of citizens believe them to be rights guaranteed under our Constitution. Conversely, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Americans have come to believe certain individual rights needed to be sacrificed for the greater good - the ability to meet family or friends at a gate in an airport or the right to carry a bottle of water into that same airport. This belief in the greater good now needs to be applied to our out-dated gun control laws. If the majority of Americans believe that military-grade assault rifles need to be removed from our streets and gun stores to protect our citizens, why are our lawmakers not listening? There have been too many deaths of innocent children and adults caused by the easy accessibility to these machines of death. The Second Amendment is important and I support the freedom it grants. But, like all others in our democratic society, that freedom is not absolute. Now is the time to take the views of the MAJORITY seriously and do something to protect us and our children from the next mass shooting. This nation was founded with the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, which stated these self-evident truths ; 'all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'. The young people gunned down last week and the many more before them were denied their right to life by a kid with a gun. Society now says this is untenable. When will our elected representatives listen and adjust our laws to truly reflect the will and desires of the people?

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  • Gina
    02/22/2018
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    I am appalled that the Congress people from Kansas continue to value their second amendment rights and NRA dollars more than they value the lives of schoolchildren. Take action on gun control or anticipate lost elections. As a school teacher I refuse to allow my children to be terrified to attend every day. Do the right thing for these children and for Kansas.

    Like (37)
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  • JTJ
    02/22/2018
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    How many children are killed by abortion? You liberals need to stop pretending that you care about children. You only care about yourselves, and suppressing the rights of others. Hypocrites.

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  • Teri
    02/22/2018
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    Do Your Job and write reasonable gun legislation.

    Like (28)
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  • Sheryl
    02/22/2018
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    The Constitution is a living document and changes as we evolve as a nation. The second amendment interferes with other inalienable rights we have to be free from fear and harm in places we assume to be safe. I am in favor of changing the second amendment to more closely align with our other rights.

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  • NoHedges
    02/22/2018
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    We have a 53% higher childhood mortality rate in the US compared to our World Partners -yet, we are the wealthiest nation on planet 🌎 I ask you, what does wealth matter if we are killing our children, our future, in order to achieve it?

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  • Kathy
    02/22/2018
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    Assault weapons need to be banned!

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  • RobinMM
    02/22/2018
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    David: The Constitution as originally written also said that a black person was equal to 3/5 of a white person, that no one could vote until age 18 and that no women could vote at all. These articles were rightly amended over time as the world changed. The second could be too. Stop crying about your deadly toys being taken away; if you are a healthy law-abiding citizen and willing to undergo a background check, then you could clearly still buy guns for personal/family protection, hunting and sport. Surely you don’t need a semiautomatic weapon to shoot a duck.

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  • Robert
    02/22/2018
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    Semi-automatic rifles and pistols need to be banned. You can keep a six shot revolver for protection, and a bolt or lever action rifle or shotgun for hunting and protection. No magazine or clip that holds more than ten rounds.

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  • Claude
    02/22/2018
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    Senator Rubio, you are on the wrong side of banning weapons of war. This maybe consistent with your political stance but it does not protect the children that live in florida. What if it were your children?

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  • BeStrong
    02/22/2018
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    Not too long ago Women could not own property or vote. Black Americans could not own property, marry outside their ‘Color’ or vote. 5 minutes ago Gay partners could not marry. Today I say it’s time to look at gun laws and drag them into societal norms. Guns:Weapons have changed dramatically in 250 years. The 2nd Amendment has faced Supreme Court challenges many times, bringing clarification and change. Keep the momentum going...Challenge the Administration, the Congress, the Supreme Court.

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  • Joseph
    02/22/2018
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    Why can’t we require every gun be registered, an then make that owner legally and financially responsible for it’s misuse.make the legal age 21 because (with no humor intended) hormonal rage can be quite self destructive

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  • John
    02/22/2018
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    No right in the Constitution is absolute. Gun restrictions need to be strong and wide ranging. Let’s remember that the Supreme Court has made egregiously wrong decisions, i.e. Dred Scott. The most important Constitutional right is to live safety and securely. Not to live in an armed camp populated by those with a rich, and twisted, fantasy life.

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  • gwenhutch
    02/22/2018
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    Why aren't we passing sensible gun laws? I have said it once and I'll say it again. Better background checks, required mental health checks, higher age limit, required training/classes. None of those things would inherently impede on a person's right to own a gun. If you are truly a law-abiding citizen then none of those factors would truly impede you.

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  • Leon
    02/22/2018
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    Apparently ‘shall not be infringed’ is somehow vague. It is not meant to be hence the direct statement. The court is incorrect in its direction that it can be regulated as the Founders clearly meant it not be.

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  • Bernie
    02/22/2018
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    Full court press. Disarm yourselves. Give US control of your defense. Give US control of your health care ( until you want to rip the head off an unwanted child). Give US control of all information on the internet. Give US control of your money and tell you how much you deserve. BLOW. Not a chance.

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  • OldTimer
    02/22/2018
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    Thirty five calls to police and at least one report to the FBI about this guy before he shot up the school so instead of having a discussion about the failures of law enforcement the discussion is about gun control. This makes sense how?

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  • Deborah
    02/22/2018
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    There’s surmounting evidence that warfare guns do not belong in the general public’s hands and the Supreme Court and congress need to reform the second amendment to the 20th century there are such powerful weapons now and they shouldn’t be in young men’s hands!

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  • Samantha
    02/22/2018
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    The second amendment is NOT a constitutional right. It can be rewritten to reflect modern day society. Because of the NRA and the millions of dollars they pay politicians, the very idea of gun control or addressing the second amendment is shot down. The NRA is nothing more than a death cult. They don't care about people's lives. They only care about making money. Take down the NRA then maybe we can finally move forward as a nation.

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  • NoHedges
    02/22/2018
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    There should be no meddling in our constitution by toxic individuals such as those currently found in this nation's leadership. Sensible gun regulation can a needs to occur WITHOUT 45 and his lot mucking about in our Constitution.

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