In this video report National Law Journal reporter Marcia Coyle explains the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case which examines for the first time the fundamental meaning of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The case in question related to the constitutionality of the law in the District of Columbia that bans hand guns and strictly regulates other lawfully owned guns.
In a 5-4 decision the justices of the Supreme Court interpreted that amendment to mean that an individual has the right to bear arms unrelated to service in a militia. However, the court did not say that this right was unlimited and that nothing in the decision should cast doubt on long-standing laws that regulate or restrict gun use.
Coyle discusses how the justices interpreted the history of the Second Amendment and what the founders of the U.S. Constitution intended.
“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.” - Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States
“Justice Scalia held that — as did the lower federal appellate court here — that the Second Amendment protects the right of an individual to possess a firearm unrelated to service in a militia and to use that firearm for lawful purposes, such as self-defense in the home.” - Marcia Coyle, National Law Journal
“He emphasized that the Second Amendment right, like most of our rights, is not unlimited. And nothing in the decision should be taken to cast doubt on long standing laws, for example, prohibiting the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, laws prohibiting the carrying of weapons in sensitive places, such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions on the commercial sale of firearms.” - Marcia Coyle, National Law Journal
“Justice Stevens offered a competing view of the history and text of the Second Amendment. He did not agree with Justice Scalia’s lengthy analysis of the history of the Second Amendment. He said the Second Amendment was a response to concerns that the new Congress would dismantle state militias, create a national standing army, and this would threaten the sovereignty of the states. He said there was nothing in the text or history that indicated the framers wanted to restrict states’ ability to regulate a private citizen’s right to own firearms.” - Marcia Coyle, National Law Journal
WARM UP QUESTIONS:
What is the Second Amendment? What does it say? What do you think this means? Do you think people should be allowed to own guns?
Do you agree with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment? Why or why not? What impact do you think this case will have on future gun law cases in the courts? What is the definition of conservative, what is the definition of liberal? How do conservative and liberal philosophies play out in the gun ban decision? Research whether citizens in other countries are allowed to own guns? Do you think this should make a difference to whether or not Americans should be able to own them?
Transcript of this report
The Supreme Court’s full ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller. [PDF]
Slide Show: Listen to Washington, D.C., Residents React to the Gun Ban Ruling
In-depth Coverage: Supreme Court Watch
U.S. Supreme Court Media: Background on District of Coumbia v. Heller