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second amendment cases

Author: Beckie Gaskill     Posted: Jan 27, 2021

Second Amendment Cases: Effects on Gun Rights

The Second Amendment is receiving little attention in the Supreme Court in recent years. As gun owners, we think that the constitutionality of gun ownership comes to a simple question: “Are we allowed to own guns or not?”. This question instead enlists a slew of legal arguments that can affect our gun rights. Three notable Second Amendment cases highlight this point.

McDonald v. The City of Chicago

This second amendment case wasn’t asking whether or not we have a right to bear arms but rather the inquiry to identify constitutional procedural issues surrounding gun ownership. Legal questions that have developed over the past century about your right to bear arms involve a complex analysis of constitutional law. Is there an individual right to bear arms? Can the state enforce or curtail your right to bear arms? What degree can a state curtail your rights? Where is the line drawn? McDonald v. The City of Chicago was the second landmark case to ensure Second Amendment rights. Because of its ruling, states are no longer exempt from protecting your right to bear arms.

D.C. v. Heller

In D.C. v. Heller, a ban on handguns was unconstitutional because it was enforced in Washington D.C., a federal district. D.C. v. Heller cites that a federal jurisdiction couldn’t infringe on your Second Amendment rights. The question that remained in the wake of D.C. v. Heller was whether or not a state could do so. Could a state, not a federal district, enforce a ban on guns? McDonald v. The City of Chicago answered no, citing precedent in D.C. v. Heller and alluding to the fact that gun rights are “deeply rooted” in American history and “fundamental”.

United States v. Cruikshank

To understand how McDonald v. The City of Chicago affected gun ownership, it’s important to look back at United States v. Cruikshank. This case was decided in 1876, amid the Reconstruction Era when America redefined its identity and legal code to adapt to post-Civil War challenges. In Cruikshank, the court determined that the 14th amendment only applied to the federal government and not states. In short, the 14th amendment specifies generally that states must follow certain federal laws and cannot deny citizens the privileges granted by the Constitution.

States have a broad discretion in regulating all of our rights, some of which are even more fundamental than gun ownership. For example, the state’s right to infringe on your most essential rights – life, liberty and property, as long as you are afforded due process. The state can imprison you, take your property, and curtail a lot of your liberties. 

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