The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has declared the Second Amendment protects the right of an individual to keep and bear arms, striking down the (failed) District of Columbia handgun ban. This article discusses what exactly the court held, and what that means for American gun owners:
The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution reads “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. ” On June 26th, 2008, the Supreme Court interpreted this Amendment, and reached the conclusions set out below.
The Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms
The Supreme Court held that law abiding Americans have the right to keep and bear arms in their homes for purposes including self defense. This is an individual right, independent of service in the militia.
Arms include handguns
The Supreme Court held that the “arms” mentioned in the Second Amendment include handguns. In doing so, it rejected the rather ridiculous suggestion that only the arms (such as muskets) used in the late 1700’s would qualify as arms.
Reasonable restrictions apply, but a ban on handguns is not a reasonable restriction
The D.C. ban on handguns and requirement that rifles and shotguns be kept locked up or dismantled was struck down. The Court held that these were not reasonable restrictions in any sense of the word. The Court went on to state that the Second Amendment is subject to reasonable restrictions, such as the machine gun laws, or the laws surrounding short barreled shotguns.
The right to keep and bear arms was not expressly applied against state and local governments – yet
The Supreme Court declined to incorporate the Second Amendment into the Fourteenth Amendment, which means that it has not yet been applied against state and local governments (incorporation into the 14th Amendment is why rights like free speech and the right to a lawyer apply against state and local government, instead of just against the federal government). The reason the court did not choose to apply this holding against state and local government is because that was not the question before the Court. As the NRA and other groups sue cities like Chicago and Oak Park, it is quite likely that the court will incorporate the 2nd Amendment, and those cities’ handgun bans will be struck down as well.
No level of scrutiny was defined
The Supreme Court also declined to decide which level of scrutiny it would apply when evaluating laws that restrict gun ownership. This is somewhat disappointing, as a statement that “strict scrutiny,” (which is the highest level of scrutiny) would apply might have helped out as cities with gun control laws are sued. However, it appears that the 5 justices in the majority would be willing to apply a reasonably high level of scrutiny in future cases.
Overall, this is a huge win for supports of the Second Amendment, and law abiding gun owners. It is a huge loss for those who would wish to restrict the right of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms. It is also a huge loss for criminals, who would prefer to prey upon unarmed and vulnerable citizens. But, the fight is not over. We still need to do our part to protect gun rights, as the anti-gun-rights groups are already devising new strategies.