Federal Law – Statutes and Judicial Interpretation

The key federal decision interpreting the Second Amendment is District of Columbia v. Heller¹.  In it, the Supreme Court struck down Washington D.C. laws prohibiting handgun possession and requiring that firearms in the home be stored unloaded and disassembled or locked at all times.  The Court held for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess an operable handgun in the home for self-defense.  The Court placed significant limits on the Second Amendment right – the Court specifically stated that the Second Amendment does not protect “a right to keep and carry a weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” The Court also listed several examples of “presumptively lawful” regulations, including laws prohibiting firearm possession by felons and the mentally ill, forbidding guns in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, and regulating the commercial sale of firearms.” The Court also noted that the Second Amendment is consistent with laws banning “dangerous and unusual weapons” and “regulating the storage of firearms to prevent accidents.”      In 2010, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment applies to state and local governments in addition to the federal government.²

Since Heller and McDonald, courts have been inundated with a flood of lawsuits challenging federal, state and local laws as violating the Second Amendment.  Courts have overwhelmingly upheld gun regulations despite these challenges.  More than 90% of those decisions have rejected the Second Amendment challenges.³ Therefore, despite the claims of the more vocal and extremist segments of the gun lobby, American courts are inclined to uphold sensible gun regulations.

¹128 S.Ct. 2783 (2008)

²McDonald v. Chicago, 130 S.Ct. 3020 (2010)

³ See Regulating Guns in America, a Comprehensive Analysis of Gun Laws Nationwide, 2014, by Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence