The Supreme Court and Gun Law

The Supreme Court and Gun Law

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.”



MLA Citation/Reference

"The Supreme Court and Gun Law". 2008. Web.

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