Supreme Court and the Second Amendment

The following are brief summaries of the cases which have reached the Supreme Court. See our Further Reading page for reference books for deeper research.

The Supreme Court has ruled only a few times dealing directly with the Second Amendment. It is vial to note that while some will claim these rulings reflect a bias of court against the Second Amendment, such a conclusion is untrue. In most cases, the court reached circumstance specific rulings based on law and concepts outside of the Second Amendment. Here are the major cases and rulings from the high court.

Unites States v. Cruikshanks, 1876 - William Cruikshanks (a white southerner) disrupted public meetings of blacks and confiscated thier firearms. He was convicted of multiple counts of conspiricy under the federal Enforcement Act of 1870. His appeal arrived at the Supreme Court which ruled unanimously in his favor agreeing that Cruikshanks had con committed federal crimes. The Supreme Court held that the constitutional rights to assemble and to bare arms only applied to limiting government interference, not individuals.

Presser v. Illinois, 1879 - Herman Presser was the head of a local militia and participated in a parade riding horseback and carrying a gun, along with some 400 of his militia members. Illinois military law required a permit such a parade, which Presser had not obtained, and so Presser was fined $10. He appealed that his right to bare arms had been violated. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Presser stating that the Second Amendment limited the federal government's actions, but not state laws.

Miller v. Texas, 1887 - Franklin Miller carried a hand gun in public, which violated state law. He shot and killed another man, was convicted and sentenced to death. He appealed on the basis that the state law violated his right to bare arms. The Supreme Court's decision went against Miller with Justice Henry B. Brown writing "It is well settled that the restrictions of these amendments operate only upon the Federal power, and have no refernce whatever to proceedings in state courts."

United States v. Miller, 1939 - In the National Firearms Act of 1934 - think of Al Capone and the Chicago gangs - congress passed the first gun control legislation which included registration of all guns with barrels of less than 18 inches. Jack Miller and Frank Layton were found guilty of violatign this Act when they transported a sawed off 12-gauge double barrel shot gun from Oklahoma to Arkansas in thier car. The defendants appealed that thier right to bare arms had been violated. The Supreme Court ruled against Miller because in the court's view the gun in question had no reasonable value to a militia.

United states v. Lopez, 1995 - The Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 made it a crime to have a gun within 2,000 feet of a public school. The law was challenged with varied results; the Ninth Circut Court of Appeals found it constitutional while the Fifth Circut Court of Appeals found it unconstitutional. Alfonzo Lopez, Jr. brought a .38-caliber hand gun to the Edison High School in San Antonio, Texas to deliver it to a student. The gun was unloaded and Lopez carried no ammunition, but was found guilty of violating the 1990 law. Upon appeal, the Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional. The majority opinion stated that congress had over-reached it's powers and that schools were a local or state concern. The minority opinion stated that congress should pass laws relative to social well-bieing of Americans in various areas, such as schools.

Printz v. United States, 1997 - In 1993, congress passed the Brady Act. James Brady was a Press Secretary to President Reagan and was shot in the head and wounded in an assasination attempt on President Reagan in 1981. Brady and his wife were leaders of Handgun Control, Inc. and the Brady Act gun control measures including registration, background checks and a 5-day waiting period for purchasing a hand gun. Jay Printz was a sheriff and cororner in Ravalli County, Montana. The challange brought by Printz argued that based on the Tenth Amendment - which states that the authority not specifically given the the federal government is reserved to the states - the federal government could not mandate state or local law enforcement officers to do background checks. The court agreed in a 5-4 decision lmited to the requirement for background checks.

District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008 - Dick Heller, a resident of the District of Columbia, was denied a permit to obtain a hand gun for his home based on the District's ban on hand guns. In short, the Supreme Court struck down the District's ban supporting that the 14th Amendment pdid not allow state laws from denying a citizen Constitutional Rights, however, the ruling was limited to US government laws and it's federal enclaves. Learn More .

McDonald v. Chicago, 2010 - Similarly to the Heller case, Otis McDonald is a resident of Chicago. McDonald is an older man living in a tough neighborhood, he has a shotgun in his home and wants a handgun for self protection as well. Chicago has a ban on hand guns. The case reached the Supreme Court in March 2010. The Court's ruling struck down the Chicago gun bans, consistent with the D.C. V. Heller ruling.

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