Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

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The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States explicitly protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms. It reads:

"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."

Judicial rulings

Relevant rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States include:

  • Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857): "it cannot be believed that the large slaveholding states regarded [blacks] as included in the word citizens, or would have consented to a Constitution which might compel them to receive them in that character from another state. For if they were so received, and entitled to the privileges and immunities of citizens, it … would give to persons of the Negro race, who were recognized as citizens in any one State of the Union, the right to ... keep and carry arms wherever they went."
  • United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1876): The Court declined to incorporate the second amendment under the recently adopted 14th amendment, leaving state laws outside the control of the federal government.
  • United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939): Justices ruled in favor of the first major national firearms restriction, the National Firearms Act. The Court ruled that "in the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a 'shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length' at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument." Short-barrel shotguns were widely used in the military at this time, but as the defense was not present, this fact was ignored by the prosecutor and perhaps not known by the justices.
  • District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. ___ (2008): The Court, in a 5–4 decision, explicitly interprets the amendment as containing a prefatory clause ("A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state") that does not restrict the operative clause ("the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."). The court added significant qualifications by saying, "like most rights, the Second Amendment is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose." It also said that the opinion "should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."
  • McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. ___ (2010): Ruled that the amendment is incorporated and applies to the states under the due process clause of the 14th amendment. The argument to incorporate under the privileges and immunities clause was rejected by all except Thomas. Struck a Chicago ordinance banning the possession of handguns.

Further reading