Revisiting the Second Amendment Right to Bear Arms

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 7 months ago

David Savage with The LA Times:

The 2nd Amendment’s “right to keep and bear arms” is proving to be a right to keep a gun at home, but so far not a right to bear a loaded firearm in public.

The Supreme Court breathed new life into the amendment when it struck down strict handgun bans in Washington and Chicago and spoke of the “inherent right of self-defense.”

But to the dismay of gun rights advocates, judges in recent months have read those decisions narrowly and rejected claims from those who said they had a constitutional right to carry a loaded gun on their person or in their car. Instead, these judges from California to Maryland have said the “core right” to a gun is limited to the home.

Now, the National Rifle Assn. is asking the high court to take up the issue this fall and “correct the widespread misapprehension that the 2nd Amendment’s scope does not extend beyond the home.”

Stephen Halbrook, an NRA lawyer, said “some judges have buried their heads in the sand and have refused to go one step further” than saying there is a right to have a gun at home.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence hailed the trend and called the high court’s rulings a “hollow victory” for gun enthusiasts. “The gun lobby has tried to expand [the 2nd Amendment] into a broad right to carry any type of gun anywhere. And they have been almost unanimously rejected by the courts,” said Jonathan Lowy, director of legal action. He conceded, however, that “this battle is far from over.”

The uncertainty began with the Supreme Court itself. In 2008, Justice Antonin Scalia said the history of the 2nd Amendment shows it “guarantees the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.” But other parts of his 5-4 opinion stressed there is no right to “carry any weapon in any manner,” and that bans on “carrying concealed weapons were lawful” in the 19th century.

Since then, hundreds of lawsuits have been filed to challenge gun restrictions. In California, federal judges in San Diego and Yolo counties rejected suits from law-abiding gun owners who were denied “concealed carry” permits.

“The 2nd Amendment does not create a fundamental right to carry a concealed weapon in public,” U.S. District Judge Morrison England ruled in May.

“That’s the cutting-edge issue: whether the 2nd Amendment applies outside the home,” said Chuck Michel, an NRA lawyer in Long Beach who has appealed the question to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

State judges in Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York have also ruled recently that there is no constitutional right to carry a loaded gun for self-defense. And in Virginia, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the federal conviction of a man who fell asleep in his car near Washington’s Reagan National Airport with a loaded gun.

So what is Savage talking about?  The best summary statement can be found directly in the Petition for Write of Certiorari to the Supreme Court on behalf of Sean Masciandaro.

Heller and McDonald left open important questions regarding the scope of the self-defense right beyond the home and the appropriate method for evaluating government regulations affecting it. The lower courts have struggled mightily with these issues. See, e.g., Masciandaro, 638 F.3d at 467 (“But a considerable degree of uncertainty remains as to the scope of that right beyond the home and the standards for determining whether and how the right can be burdened by governmental regulation.”); United States v. Skoien, 614 F.3d 638, 640 (7th Cir. 2010) (en banc) (“Skoien II”) (Heller creates an individual right that includes keeping operable handguns at home for self-defense but “[w]hat other entitlements the Second Amendment creates, and what regulations legislatures may establish, were left open.”), cert. denied, 131 S. Ct. 1674 (2011).

The highest state courts that have considered the issue unanimously decided that the Second Amendment right is limited to the home. Maryland, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Kansas have all limited Heller to its holding. 9 For example, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld Maryland’s firearm permitting statute, concluding that the right is unavailable outside the home. Williams v. State, 417 Md. 479, 496 (Md. 2011) (stating that “[i]f the Supreme Court, in this [Heller] dicta, meant its holding to extend beyond home possession, it will need to say so more plainly”), petition for cert. filed, 79 U.S.L.W. 3594 (Apr. 5, 2011). That court noted that Illinois, the District of Columbia, and California also limited the right in similar cases. Id. at 496-99. Given this trend, state courts that confront Second Amendment issues in the future will likely limit its protection to the home.

Other state and federal courts have held that even if the right might exist outside the home, it is substantially weaker than the right enjoyed in the home.

So there are massive problems with Heller and McDonald.  While I am a huge fan of Justice Scalia, he let America down on the issue of gun rights.  Heller was too narrowly decided.  To be sure, there is a second amendment right, and it applies to individuals, personally, and not just in the home, but everywhere else as well.  I see bans on concealed carry, bans on high capacity magazines (e.g., California), bans on firearms based on type or function, bans on carry in places of worship, and so on, in the same category.  They all violate the Second Amendment.

The lower courts’ confusion is simply because they are confused.  The Supreme Court shouldn’t have to spell it out that this extent.  But moderately vague language in the SCOTUS decisions, progressive tendencies among the judiciary, and laziness of the American people to assert their constitutional rights, have led us to the point again where the stolid judges, lawyers, politicians and law enforcement officials everywhere must be told that Americans have a God-given right to self defense, at all times, in all circumstances, and by any means.



  • jules

    I am so glad I live in an open carry state, even though i don’t own a gun.

  • http://dad29.blogspot.com dad29

    Wisconsin resolved that issue several years ago by passing a Con Amend stating that ‘possession…..is constitutional ….for ANY lawful purpose….’

    An obstructionist Justice (Abrahamson) at SCOWI held off the inevitable CCW until the (R) Government finally passed same. (Meantime, open carry was perfectly legal and Constitutional here.)

    Frankly, I prefer the Wisconsin solution as it respects the 10th Amendment.

  • Pingback: The Captain's Journal » Federal Court: No Right To Carry Concealed Handgun


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This article is filed under the category(s) Firearms,Second Amendment and was published August 28th, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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