The Supreme Court and Gun Law

The Supreme Court and Gun Law

In August of 2014, a Maryland federal judge upheld parts of a gun-control law that were challenged before the law was implemented last year. Maryland lawmakers approved the ban on 45 assault weapons and a limit on gun magazines to 10 rounds, in response to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which took place in December 2012. Twenty children and six staff members were killed in the tragedy.

US District Judge Catherine Blake concluded that the gun law serves to protect public safety without burdening the key Second Amendment right of "law abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home."

Blake’s ruling read: “In summary, the Firearms Safety Act of 2013, which represents the considered judgment of this state's legislature and its governor, seeks to address a serious risk of harm to law enforcement officers and the public from the greater power to injure and kill presented by assault weapons and large capacity magazines.”

As of August 2014, District of Columbia police officers have stopped charging people with carrying a handgun outside their home or business following a judge’s decision that banning the carrying of a handgun was unconstitutional.

Prior to the ruling, which was made in late July by US District Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr., people were banned from carrying handguns outside their homes or businesses under city law. The ruling is not set to come into full force until October 2014, giving lawmakers time to respond with new laws.

In 2010, the Supreme Court of America ruled in the case of McDonald v. Chicago to determine whether the Second Amendment applies to individual states. The Court ruled that the right of an individual to "keep and bear arms" protected by the Second Amendment is incorporated against state and local Governments by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and applies to the states.

The Court said: “In Heller, we held that the Second Amendment protects the right to possess a handgun in the home for the purpose of self-defense. Unless considerations of stare decisis counsel otherwise, a provision of the Bill of Rights that protects a right that is fundamental from an American perspective applies equally to the Federal Government and the States. We therefore hold that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amendment right recognized in Heller.”

The 2010 decision drew a line under any uncertainty left following 2008’s Supreme Court ruling in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller as to gun rights in regard to the states.

On June 26th 2008, the Supreme Court of America, by a 5 to 4 majority, adjudicated that US citizens, with some exclusions, have the right to legally own weapons for self-defence and for hunting purposes. The Supreme Court’s decision came after an assessment of the Second Amendment that states:
“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.”
Those in the anti-gun lobby argued that the amendment refers only to those in a state militia and not to the general population. They argued that the relevant interpretation of the amendment is that a well-armed militia is required within a state to protect it but that it is only those people in that militia who have the legal right to carry arms.
But the Supreme Court, in the narrowest possible decision, decided otherwise with five Justices believing that the comma at the end of the word “state”, effectively separates the statement into two sections: that a well regulated militia is required to protect a state and that the people have a right to bear arms, which shall not be infringed. This is also the interpretation of the pro-gun lobby. 
A review of the Second Amendment was held in 1939 but no definitive Court decision was ever made.
The Supreme Court also declared that the gun control regulations for Washington DC were no longer acceptable. Gun control legislation for the city was introduced in 1976, which banned the private ownership of handguns within the city’s limits. City regulations also required rifles and shotguns to be either dismantled within a home or locked up. These regulations were effectively deemed unconstitutional as a result of the Supreme Court’s definitive interpretation of the Second Amendment. The day after the decision, powerful interest groups led by the National Rifle Association announced that they were going to campaign against handgun restrictions in Chicago and San Francisco.
One of the Justices who voted for the right of people to bear arms was Anthony Scalia. The Court’s ruling stated:
“(The Constitution) protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with a service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defence within the home.”
However, in his ruling Justice Scalia made it perfectly clear that the restrictions on criminals carrying arms was to be kept in place as is the ruling that forbids guns to be carried near to schools, government buildings and other ‘sensitive places’.
As would be expected the powerful NRA expressed its pleasure in the decision:
“I consider this the opening salvo in a step-by-step process of providing relief for law-abiding Americans everywhere that have been deprived of this freedom.” (Wayne LaPierre, NRA)
The decision by the Supreme Court was not met with universal support in America. Dianne Fenstein, Senator for California, said;
“I believe the people of this great country will be less safe because of it.”
Republican Presidential candidate John McCain stated that the ruling put gun ownership on the same level as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
However, San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newson, stated that he would fight any challenge to the city’s decision that bans gun ownership for people living in public housing. “Is there anyone out there who really believes that we need more guns in public housing? I can’t for the life of me sit back and roll over on this.”

Updated September 2014

MLA Citation/Reference

"The Supreme Court and Gun Law". 2014. Web.

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