A sea of opinions on the right of individuals to own and possess firearms have been offered in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. This blog post is not intended to add to the tally of opinions, but to reflect on the most recent Supreme Court decision to address the Second Amendment.
Gun legislation, though the subject of a perennial discussion, has infrequently been taken up by the United States Supreme Court. However, in 2008 The Court rendered an opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S. Ct. 2783. This decision is the most comprehensive answer about the meaning of the Second Amendment and definitely worth the read. Both the majority opinion and the dissent include dense historical information for the context of the Second Amendment. If you really want to be informed, and have a few hours to spare, I recommend reading it in its entirety. However if you want the Cliff’s Notes version, see below.
THE STATUTE AT ISSUE IN HELLER
The District of Columbia passed a statute making it illegal to possess an unregistered handgun, prohibited the registration of handguns, and required a yearly renewable license to carry a handgun. Additionally, any lawfully owned firearms were to be kept “unloaded and dissembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device unless located at a business or in use for lawful recreational activities.”
THE DECISION IN HELLER
The majority of the statute was ultimately struck down by a slim 5-4 margin, with Justice Scalia writing for the majority. Only the the yearly licensing requirement was affirmed.
- The statute at issue was struck down because it prohibited “an entire class of ‘arms’ that is overwhelmingly chosen by American society for [self-defense].”
- However, the Court also recognized that “the rights secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.”
- The State may prohibit the possession of firearms by a felon or the mentally ill. Additionally, the State may forbid them in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings. And it may regulate the commercial sale of arms.
- It is permissible to impose a yearly licensing requirement to possess handguns.
In addition to the bullet points, I felt compelled to include Justice Scalia’s final paragraph due to it’s relevancy and insight into possible future opinions.
“We are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country, and we take seriously the concerns raised by the many amici who believe that prohibition of handgun ownership is a solution. The Constitution leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns. But the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table. These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home. Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”
The debate on the Second Amendment will continue in classrooms, talk shows, and undoubtedly the Supreme Court. I encourage you to do some research on your own to aid in the formation of your own opinion. If nothing else, it will distract you from your Facebook page for a little while and possibly even impress your friends.
For more information on this issue or other legal matters, do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at Anton Castro Law in Tampa, FL.