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The Second Amendment Decisions in Supreme Court

by Abdus Subhan
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The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees people the right to bear arms, making interpretation a contentious topic among legal scholars, politicians and members of the general public alike. Since 1791 when this Amendment was first approved for use, various decisions by the Supreme Court concerning interpretation have had far-reaching implications on gun ownership, control measures and public safety – this article reviews some critical Second Amendment decisions made by them since.

The Second Amendment

Ratified in 1791, the US Constitution’s Second Amendment reads as follows: a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of any free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” However, interpretation has suggested that its language provides individuals a right to bear arms rather than only maintaining militia or national guard forces.

Yet the intent of the Second Amendment remains subject to much discussion, leading to various gun control measures throughout American history. Due to its vague wording and differing interpretations regarding gun ownership rights, however, several landmark decisions of the Supreme Court have addressed its interpretation in several landmark decisions involving Second Amendment interpretation.

Supreme Court’s Second Amendment Decisions

Dred Scott vs Sandford (1857)

Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) was one of the earliest Supreme Court decisions that addressed the Second Amendment. Dred Scott brought this case claiming to be free due to having lived in a free state for some time despite still being classified as a slave; the Court held against Scott on several grounds: their citizenship status did not allow them to sue in Court and that Second Amendment did not apply even when these people had become free citizens themselves.

United States of America v. Cruikshank (1875).

United States v. Cruikshank (1875), following the Civil War, addressed interpretation of the Second Amendment. A group of white men sued in response to African Americans being denied their right to bear arms by state governments; their argument being that federal action only applied and could not be used against private individuals or local governments who disarmed a militia effectively. Furthermore, this court ruling stated that the right of bear arms wasn’t guaranteed without direct links between maintaining an effective militia force and owning arms was disallowed under this clause of the Second Amendment.

United States of America v. Miller (1939).

United States v. Miller (1939) involved an appeal regarding a federal law mandating registration of sawed-off shotguns. A person claimed that registration laws such as 1934 National Firearms Act required for machine guns and sawed-off shotguns violated his Second Amendment rights; the Supreme Court ultimately concluded otherwise and decided that registration laws did not violate his Second Amendment protections as long as firearms constituted part of “ordinary military equipment”. Therefore, the 1934 National Firearms Act did not violate it either.

District of Columbia v. Heller (2008).

District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) marked the first case since Miller to consider how interpretation and application of the Second Amendment impacts gun ownership rights. A group of District of Columbia residents brought suit, challenging local gun control regulations which prohibited handgun ownership while long guns must either remain disassembled or trigger-locked for storage purposes. Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that individual right to bear arms unrelated to militia service exists under Article II; additionally they stated this right applied to both handguns and long guns and that individuals have the ability to keep firearms at home for self-defense purposes.

McDonald v. Chicago (2010)

McDonald v. Chicago (2010) marked an historic Supreme Court ruling which further clarified the scope of the Second Amendment as it applied to individual states, specifically Chicago residents’ claims against city’s strict gun control regulations which paralleled those being challenged in District of Columbia v. Heller case. Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment applied equally to both local governments as well as individuals; they stated this right was protected under Due Process Clause of Fourteenth Amendment and due Process Clause was essential in protecting it.

Caetano v Massachusetts (2016).

Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016) provided an important opportunity to consider stun guns within the context of Second Amendment legality. A Massachusetts woman brought this case after she was arrested for carrying one illegal in Massachusetts; ultimately, however, the Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s ruling and determined that stun guns are protected under Second Amendment protection despite having nothing to do with firearms themselves.


The Supreme Court’s decisions concerning gun ownership and control laws in America have played a critical role. Over time, their interpretation has varied: some cases limited the protections afforded under the Second Amendment while others enforced individual rights. Most recently, decisions such as District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago took a broad approach towards interpretation by emphasizing an individual right to bear arms as protected under it. Although its interpretation remains subject to debate among legal scholars, policymakers, and citizens, acknowledgment must take place and that its central place within American laws and democracy as part of American legal heritage and democracy itself.

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