The Second Amendment as Interpreted by Congress and the Court

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Northeastern University School of Law




In the last two years, the U.S. Supreme Court has finally offered a reasoned interpretation of the Second Amendment. By the slimmest of majorities in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment supplies an individually-held right to bear arms; the government may place reasonable restrictions on gun ownership, but neither the federal government nor an individual state can deprive a person of their right to possess a handgun. Despite many pages of opinion, however, the majority in Heller offers an unsatisfying explanation for why the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to bear arms. Whether the Second Amendment should be construed as an individual or collective right will probably be a continuing debate and, should the composition of the Court change in the near future, there could be another landmark gun decision with profound implications on Second Amendment jurisprudence. Meanwhile, the Heller and McDonald opinions do little, if anything, to resolve the gun debate in the United States.

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