By Dr. Jeff Czarnec
In 1939 the U.S. Supreme Court considered the matter in United States v. Miller. 307 U.S. 174. The Court adopted a collective rights approach in this case, determining that Congress could regulate a sawed-off shotgun that had moved in interstate commerce under the National Firearms Act of 1934 because the evidence did not suggest that the shotgun “has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated milita . . . .” The Court then explained that the Framers included the Second Amendment to ensure the effectiveness of the military.
This precedent stood for nearly 70 years when in 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court revisited the issue in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller (07-290). The plaintiff in Hellerchallenged the constitutionality of the Washington D.C. handgun ban, a statute that had stood for 32 years. Many considered the statute the most stringent in the nation. In a 5-4 decision, the Court, meticulously detailing the history and tradition of the Second Amendment at the time of the Constitutional Convention, proclaimed that the Second Amendment established an individual right for U.S. citizens to possess firearms and struck down the D.C. handgun ban as violative of that right. The majority carved out Miller as an exception to the general rule that Americans may possess firearms, claiming thaat law-abiding citizens cannot use sawed-off shotguns for any law-abiding purchase. Similarly, the Court in its dicta found regulations of similar weaponry that cannot be used for law-abiding purchases as laws that would not implicate the Second Amendment. Further, the Court suggested that the United States Constitution would not disallow regulations prohibiting criminals and the mentally ill from firearm possession.
Thus, the Supreme Court has revitalized the Second Amendment. The Court continued to strengthen the Second Amendment through the 2010 decision in McDonald v. City of Chicago (08-1521). The plaintiff inMcDonald challenged the constitutionally of the Chicago handgun ban, which prohibited handgun possession by almost all private citizens. In a 5-4 decisions, the Court, citing the intentions of the framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment, held that the Second Amendment applies to the states through the incorporation doctrine. However, the Court did not have a majority on which clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the fundamental right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense. While Justice Alito and his supporters looked to the Due Process Clause, Justice Thomas in his concurrence stated that the Privileges and Immunities Clause should justify incorporation.
However, several questions still remain unanswered, such as whether regulations less stringent than the D.C. statute implicate the Second Amendment, whether lower courts will apply their dicta regarding permissible restrictions, and what level of scrutiny the courts should apply when analyzing a statute that infringes on the Second Amendment.