Skip to comments.What the Supreme Court Has Said aboutthe Second Amendment
Posted on 05/04/2003 12:27:02 PM PDT by ThreePuttinDude
The Supreme Courts Thirty-five Other Gun Cases:
What the Supreme Court Has Said about the Second Amendment
[This is a DRAFT of an article that will appear in a symposium issue of volume 18 of the St. Louis University Public Law Review.]
By David B. Kopel
Among legal scholars, it is conventional wisdom that the Supreme Court has said almost nothing about the Second Amendment. This article suggests that the Court has not been so silent as the conventional wisdom suggests. While the meaning of the Supreme Courts leading Second Amendment case, the 1939 United States v. Miller decision remains hotly disputed, the question whether the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right can be pretty well settled by looking at the thirty-five other Supreme Court cases which quote, cite, or discuss the Second Amendment. These cases suggest that the Justices of the Supreme Court do now and usually have regarded the Second Amendment right of the people to keep and bear arms as an individual right, rather than as a right of state governments.
Chief Justice Melville Fullers Supreme Court (1888-1910) had the most cases involving the Second Amendment: eight. So far, the Rehnquist Court is in second place, with six. But Supreme Court opinions dealing with the Second Amendment come from almost every period in the Courts history, and almost all of them assume or are consistent with the proposition that the Second Amendment is an individual right.
Part I of this Article discusses the opinions from the Rehnquist Court. Part II looks at the Burger Court, and Part III at the Warren, Vinson, and Hughes Courts. Part IV groups together the cases from the Taft, Fuller, and Waite Courts, while Part V consolidates the Chase, Taney, and Marshall Courts.
But first, let us quickly summarize what modern legal scholarship says about the Second Amendment, and why the Courts main Second Amendment decisionUnited States v. Millerdoes not by itself settle the debate.
Dennis Henigan, lead attorney for Handgun Control, Inc., argues that the Supreme Court has said so little about the Second Amendment because the fact that the Second Amendment does not protect the right to ordinary Americans to own a gun is perhaps the most well-settled point in American law. Henigan argues that the Second Amendment was meant to restrict the Congressional powers over the militia granted to Congress in Article I of the Constitutionalthough Henigan does not specify what the restrictions are. One of Henigans staff criticizes the large number of American history textbooks which contradict a nearly unanimous line of judicial decisions by suggesting the meaning of the Second Amendment was judicially unsettled.
Similarly, Carl Bogus argues that the only purpose of the Second Amendment was to protect states rights to use their militia to suppress slave insurrectionsalthough Bogus too is vague about exactly how the Second Amendment allegedly restricted Congressional powers. This article refers to the States Rights theory of the Second Amendment as the Henigan/Bogus theory, in honor of its two major scholarly proponents.
In contrast to the States Rights theory is what has become known as the Standard Model. Under the Standard Model, which is the consensus of most modern legal scholarship on the Second Amendment, the Amendment guarantees a right of individual Americans to own and carry guns. This modern Standard Model is similar to the position embraced by every known legal scholar in the nineteenth century who wrote about the Second Amendment: the Amendment guarantees an individual right, but is subject to various reasonable restrictions.
Both the Standard Model and the States Right theory claim that Supreme Court precedent, particularly the case of United States v. Miller, supports their position.
Two other scholarly theories about the Second Amendment are interesting, but their theories have little to do with Supreme Court precedent. Garry Wills argues that the Second Amendment has no real content, and was merely a clever trick that James Madison played on the Anti-Federalists. David Williams argues that the Second Amendment once guaranteed an individual right, but no longer does so because the American people are no longer virtuous and united, and hence are no longer the people referred to in the Second Amendment. Neither the Wills Nihilism theory nor the Williams Character Decline theory make claims which depend on the Supreme Court for support, or which could be refuted by Supreme Court decisions.
(Excerpt) Read more at apfn.org ...
This may indicate that they are willing to conduct such a review, since most of the time such petitions are summarily denied.
The county's brief is due on June 1.
Neither Jack Miller no co-defendant Frank Layton was ever convicted of possessing a sawed-off shotgun. The question before the court was whether Miller and Layton could quash their indictment without having to present any evidence of anything. The Supreme Court ruled that the issue of whether a particular firearm was suitable for use in a well-functioning militia was an evidentiary question and thus had to be decided in trial court.
Although Jack Miller was dead by the time U.S. v. Miller was decided, Frank Layton was still very much alive when the government was given the go-ahead to proceed with prosecution. The government, however, decided to offer a plea-bargain for time served rather than going to trial court. Can anyone think of any other case in which a plea-bargain for time served was considered a government victory?
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.
This is about as unambiguous as one can get when framing a document of governance where the framers are trying to make a clear statement as to the prohibition of acts by the government.
A well-regulated, (governed or directed according to rule)
militia (a body of citizens organized for military service)
being necessary (logically unavoidable)
to the security (freedom from danger)
of a free State (State in this incidence means the States that make up the U.S. as well as the U.S. itself)
The right (the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled)
of the people (the citizens of the United States)
to keep (to retain in one's possession or power)
and bear (to move while holding up and supporting)
arms (a means, as in a weapon, of offense or defense)
shall not (total prohibition against)
be infringed (encroach upon in any way that violates the law or the rights of another).
If they say no, ask them are they lying when they take the oath of office?
A comma merely indicates a slight pause when reading. It can separate a main thought from an explanitory or expansionary aside. Punctuation and spelling were indifferent at best in the late 1700s and there actually exist two different "official" versions of the second amendment, one with 3 commas and one with only one. The 3 comma version is the one written out by the clerk of the House, AFTER the House and Senate had separately approved single comman versions. No other contemporanous version has those 3 commas. They all have only one comma, after "state". The version sent to the states, or at the one surviving example, has only the one comma, as do versions sent back from several states to the federal government with their official ratification. There has already been a FR thread on the subject of the commas.
IMHO, only the single comma version makes grammatical sense if the comma(s) is(are) supposed to separate separate thoughts. Since the single comma version is the one passed by both houses of Congress, and as far as we can tell the one sent to the states for ratification, it is the definitive version.
From the article/thread linked above:
It is important to use the proper Second Amendment because it is clearly and flawlessly written in its original form. Also, the function of the words, "a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state," are readily discerned when the proper punctuation is used. On the other hand, the gratuitous addition of commas serve only to render the sentence grammatically incorrect and unnecessarily ambiguous.
Defendants and prosecuters should be seated in front of hay bails to prevent richocets should the judge, jury, and spectators decide to open fire simultaniously. Dangerous criminals like Manson should be executed, or kept in prison.
The people in the courtroom would only open fire in self defense, of course. There would probably be a lot less BS, and more mutual respect in an well armed courtroom. Who knows, justice might even break out! The point being, an armed society is a polite society.
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.
A well-regulated militia means a well-maintained and armed body of men composed of the common people. George Mason said, "I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials." This Amendment emphasizes that such militias are necessary to secure the freedoms of the people. A free state was considered one in which citizens had inalienable rights, government derived its power from the governed, and the people had the right to alter or abolish the government if it became tyrannical. The right of citizens to keep and bear arms is the guarantee of that free state.
The Founding Fathers of the Constitution knew of the potential evils of having standing armies in times of peace. In free states, the defense of the realm was considered best left to citizens who took up arms only when necessary and who returned to their communities and occupations when the danger passed. They observed that professional soldiers endangered liberty. Standing armies were viewed as instruments of fear. A main danger to a free republic was tyrannical government and the ultimate check on tyrannical government was an armed population.
From the above information we can see how the Third Amendment ties in with the Second Amendment.
"No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."
There is only one comma in the original. AFAIK, two commas were added by FDR.
Please one and all on this forum, can we stop using the word elite, the choice part; esp: a socially superior group and start using elitist a belief or advocacy of rule by an elite. I don't have a problem with one who may be elite but I do have a problem with an elitist aka HRC.
However the point of the post was to show that even by the loosest definitions the 2nd amendment is about the rights of the people.
As for the the definition of infringe: wouldn't you, as most people do, consider the Constitution to be the the highest Law of the land?
But does the term include any and all such objects as might be used for such purpose? If so, on what items is the government allowed to place taxes or any other restriction?
IMHO, and the Court in Miller seemed to take this view, the prefatory phrase of the Second Amendment serves to clarify that the "Arms" protected thereby are those artifacts which could be used effectively as weapons in the context of a well-functioning citizen army.
M-16 clearly included. Glock 19 clearly included. Cane gun, perhaps not.
For people, substitute "all free persons". Obviously slaves were never intended to have arms, either.
Now, if not, why not?
Just about any object can be used as a weapon. If the government were forbidden from taxing or placing any restrictions upon every item which could possibly used as a weapon, it would be unable to tax or restrict much of anything.
The variety of items which could potentially be useful as weapons in a well-functioning citizen army is quite large, and probably encompases most artifacts that would normally be described as "weapons". One might reasonably question, however, whether a cane gun could be effectively so used. Most such weapons are apt to be no more readily kept at hand than a pistol and are apt to be more difficult to fire either quickly or accurately. As such, their military usefulness may be dubious at best.
Something like a Glock 17 or M-16, however, would have clearly demonstrable military usefulness; something like a Bryco model 38, while not used by any military, could reasonably be allowed as a poor person's "nearest equivalent" to a good military pistol.