History of the 2nd Amendment

With all the controversy surrounding gun control and the right to bear arms, understanding the history of the 2nd Amendment is extremely important. The language used in the Second Amendment is hotly debated and discussed. Does a person have a right to own a gun? What about the connection to a Well Regulated Militia? Interpretations of the amendment are vast, and its place within the context of today’s societys add to the complexity of the 27 words that make it up.

“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.”

What does it mean? The U.S. Constitution is the world’s longest surviving written charter of government. Due to the age of the Constitution, it seems reasonable to test it from time to time. In fact, the earliest Supreme Court decisions were anti-gun. United States v. Cruikshank, Presser v. Illinois, Miller v. Texas, United States v. Miller, and Lewis v. United States all ended in rulings that helped narrow definitions and tightened rules surrounding the Second Amendment. In Lewis v. United States (1980), the court ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees no right to keep and bear a firearm that does not have some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated Militia.

It wasn’t until 2008 that the Supreme Court dismantled previous court case’s claims as a result of Dictrict of Columbia v. Heller.

The complaint began after Dick Heller, a District of Columbia special police officer authorized to carry a handgun while performing his duties at the Federal Judicial Center, attempted to register a handgun that he intended to keep at his D.C. home. The District of Columbia denied his request under a provision found in D.C.’s Firearms Control Act of 1975. Heller took the case to court, claiming that two provisions in the Firearms Control Act violated his Constitutional rights under the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court justices voted 5-4 in favor of Heller. While the majority of the Court ruled that the “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in the militia,” and that individuals had the right to use that firearm “for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense with the home,” four of the nine Justices disagreed.

The most recent Second Amendment case to see the Supreme Court was McDonald v. City of Chicago in 2010. The same Supreme Court justices from District of Columbia v. Heller presided over the case, with the exception of newly appointed justice Sonia Sotomayor. In the case, a Chicago municipality denied the registration of a handgun to Mr. Otis McDonald, a law-abiding citizen, veteran, and Second Amendment advocate. The Supreme Court found the local gun restriction law to be in violation of the Constitution by a 5-4 vote. This case resulted in a landmark decision which guarantees that the Second Amendment applies to state and local governments as well as to the federal government.

As political activists and politicians scramble to use mass shooting events as a reason to restrict civilian gun ownership, it’s important to remember the history of the Second Amendment and acknowledge that regardless of what happens, we have a Constitutional right to bear arms that cannot be infringed.

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