ANATOMY OF A SUPREME COURT CASE: District of Columbia v. Heller (2008)

DIck Heller and Supreme Court - Median pic

  (Photo credit: Median)

by Diane Rufino, May 25, 2019

The case District of Columbia v. Heller is the landmark Supreme Court case decided in 2008, and written by the late great conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, which finally looked at the roots and origins of the Second Amendment and ruled that it confers not only a collective right to keep and bear arms when serving in a militia but also an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense and for self-protection. The Second Amendment recognizes and guarantees gun rights for two articulated purposes. Both purposes involve self-defense and protection: The first is for the defense and protection of the state and the second is for the defense and protection of the individual.

We the People have the inalienable Right to Life. The corollary to that absolutely fundamental right is the right to defend and preserve it. Otherwise the right is only one recognized on paper. The right to defend one’s life implies that the individual be entitled to possess the same type of weapons, and of the same force, which may attempt to take his or her life.

The case stems from an incident, as we will see, that occurred in 1975 and which immediately resulted in the strictest gun control law in the nation – in the District of Columbia.

But first, let’s look at the wording of the Second Amendment:

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.”

Next, let’s look at the context in which this Amendment has been added to the Constitution. To do that, let’s look at the Preamble to the first ten amendments (Bill of Rights):

“THE Conventions of a number of the States having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution.”

Each of the first ten amendments to the Constitution (The Bill of Rights) holds a particular significance in the scope of government. And that significance is articulated by the Preamble which accompanied the Bill of Rights. The Preamble goes to the INTENT of our Founders and framers and to the understanding of the ground rules by which the States established and then agreed to create a general government. Remember, there were several states that would NOT have ratified and adopted the Constitution – that is, would NOT have joined the Union of states – if a Bill of Rights was not added.

How important was the Right to Keep and Bear Arms?? As will be discussed later, gun rights activist Don B. Kates, did extensive research into the history and the roots of our gun rights and the Second Amendment. In his research into the debates of the states in their ratifying conventions (1787-1790), he found that the number of states that recommended adding a guarantee of the right to have guns outnumbered those that recommended adding other rights.

North Carolina was one of those states. North Carolina met in convention in 1788 (July 21 – August 4) and could not decide whether to adopt the US Constitution. The State adopted the Anti-Federalist position which held that the Constitution had the potential of concentrating too much power in a central government. To avoid this, those states argued that a Bill of Rights was needed to be added to the Constitution (“A Bill of Rights is what every free people are entitled to against every government” – Thomas Jefferson). North Carolina decided to wait it out – to see if a Bill of Rights would indeed be added. At that 1788 convention, the delegates drafted and adopted a “Declaration of Rights: (20 of them) and a set of Amendments (26 of them), which were forwarded to Congress. [See https://www.usconstitution.net/rat_nc.html]. One of those “Rights” was the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. It read:

“17. That the people have a right to Keep and Bear Arms; that a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the circumstances and protection of the community will admit; and that. in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”

The Constitution was eventually ratified by the requisite nine states on June 21, 1788 (New Hampshire being the ninth state to ratify) and so it went into effect and established our second American Union. The first US Congress was seated on March 4, 1789. (North Carolina was not part of the Union at that time and thus, not represented). In September 1789, the first US Congress adopted a set of amendments (which were written and submitted, as promised, by James Madison), which were sent to the States to be ratified as the US Bill of Rights. Once this was done, North Carolina called up a second convention two months later. The Constitution was ratified on November 21, 1789, making the state the twelfth state to ratify and join the Union.

So, let’s go back to 1975, the year that ultimately gave rise to the Heller case.

  • Violent crime involving handguns was on the rise in the United States. Communities were no longer safe; the streets were no longer safe. Murders were up, robberies were up, aggravated assaults were up, there were car-jackings, home invasions, drug-related crimes, etc
  • In 1974 alone, there were more than 890 incidents of violent crime (involving the illegal use of a firearm) every single day – with a disproportionate share of them being in DC
  • In the 1970’s, DC was suffering from one of the highest levels of violent crimes (and poverty and drugs and venereal disease) in the country
  • Fortune magazine called DC “one of the sickest cities in America”
  • The majority of its residents were African-American, trapped in poverty, stuck on welfare, and succumbing to crime and drug use
  • Prayer was taken out of public schools by the Supreme Court with the Engel v. Vitale ruling in 1962
  • Bible readings were taken out of public schools by the Supreme Court with the Abington v. Schempp ruling in 1963
  • LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act into law in 1964, creating the welfare system we know today which has had disastrous effects on the advancement of black communities – providing and focusing on handouts that discourage self-improvement, advancement, independency, and responsibility

With respect to LBJ’s “War on Poverty” and the “Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)” program (welfare, particularly aimed at inner-city blacks), Derryck Green, spokesman for Project 21 (Black Leadership Network) explained: “The disastrous effects of the government’s management of anti-poverty initiatives are recognizable across racial lines, but the destruction is particularly evident in the black community. It effectively subsidized the dissolution of the black family by rendering the black man’s role as a husband and a father irrelevant, invisible and — more specifically — disposable. The result has been several generations of blacks born into broken homes and broken communities experiencing social, moral and economic chaos. It fosters an inescapable dependency that primarily, and oftentimes solely, relies on government to sustain livelihoods.” The unintended consequences – institutionalized poverty, crime, drugs, broken families, lack of education, etc were prevalent in DC in the 1970’s.

On a Sunday in June 1975, two men broke into a hardware store with pistols and committed armed robbery, firing shots at the guards while customers were in the store. The store was owned by John Hechinger, who also happened to be the first chairman of the Council of the District of Columbia (= city council of DC)

Two years earlier, in December 1973, the US Congress relinquished governance over the District of Columbia and established “home rule,” giving the city’s residents the right of self-governance…. Finally. However, the government still maintained ultimate authority; it could over-ride laws that it did not approve of.

In July 1976, John Hechinger helped to pass the most stringent gun control law in the nation:

  • Banned shotguns completely
  • Required that shotguns and rifles must be kept unloaded, disassembled, and locked in one’s home
  • Long guns (rifles, shotgun) could be assembled for recreation purposes only, such as hunting
  • Banned the use of “long guns” (including shotgun) for non-recreational purposes (hence, they could not be used for self-defense)

In other words, even if a person owned a shotgun, he or she couldn’t use it against an armed burglar coming through the door.

Interestingly, a young first-term Republican Congressman from southern Texas, Ron Paul, who had a particular aversion to big ambitious government and who would go on to found the Liberty movement, tried to over-turn the gun ban in Congress. Although Congress had given DC “home rule,” it still retained the right to revise its laws should it feel the need to do so. [The bill passed; however, the wording was so sloppy that it was ineffective at overturning the ban].

When the DC gun ban went into effect, Second Amendment jurisprudence wasn’t very well-articulated. The prevailing view was that the Second Amendment articulated a “militia theory” of gun rights. That is, a “collective right.” Only when an individual was serving or able to serve in a state militia would he be entitled to keep and bear arms. Those arms, accordingly, would only be allowed when serving in a militia.

In 1939, the Supreme Court ruled in the case United States v. Miller that “a sawed-off shotgun is not a typical weapon used by a militia and thus is not protected under the Second Amendment,” thus apparently endorsing the “militia theory” or “collective right” view of the Second Amendment.

Note that the Supreme Court never really officially endorsed the “Militia” theory (or Collective Right theory) of the Second Amendment because it never bothered to do a deep dive into its history or original meaning, but it certainly appeared it tended that way in 1939 with the Miller case. For many decades after the opinion, the lower federal courts adopted the “militia theory” and the Supreme Court never objected or took cases to correct this view. In fact, the justices of the Supreme Court declined for 70 years to rule on any Second Amendment case.

In the 1930’s and 1940’s, and even into the 1960’s, the US practiced and even institutionalized civil rights violations against African-Americans. There was the Jim Crow era, followed by the violent Civil Rights era, when those institutions of racism finally came toppling down. Before that, freed slaves and their children were victimized and persecuted by the Democratic Ku Klux Klan – militant members of the Southern Democratic Party intent on maintaining white supremacy in the South by preventing blacks from voting and having any meaningful civic voice in southern society. Most people don’t know that one of the primary objects of the Ku Klux Klan was to visit the homes of freed blacks and take their guns away. Blacks could not be permitted to have firearms; they could not be permitted to defend themselves or to harm whites.

In the summer of 1963,, a gun-rights activist named Don Kates stood guard outside the home of a local civil rights activist in eastern NC with an M1 Carbine in one hand and a Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special revolver in the other hand. That activist, a woman, was to be a plaintiff in a civil rights lawsuit and she had been receiving death threats. Eastern North Carolina was Ku Klux Klan country and the police too often sided with the Klan. Good men, civilians, armed with firearms would have to protect her and Don Kates volunteered for the job. Kates had just completed his first year at Yale Law School and was volunteering at a law firm in North Carolina working on civil rights cases. The experience of providing protection for a woman facing death threats taught Kates a valuable lesson: For oppressed people who can’t rely on the police, having a gun is sometimes the only means of self-protection. This was especially true for African-Americans who had a history of being oppressed and being denied access and ownership of guns.   [Adam Winkler, “Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.” (2011)]

Later in the 1970’s when he went into private practice, Kates began to represent clients in civil rights cases. To best do so, he researched the history of the Second Amendment. Eventually, over the next couple of years, he published a series of articles in various legal magazines and journals on gun rights, the most notable being the Michigan Law Review. [Don Kates, “Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment,” Michigan Law Review 82 (1983): 204]. That article in the Michigan Law Review was the first article ever to appear in a law review from a top ten law school arguing that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to keep firearms for self-defense. This article would help revolutionize Second Amendment jurisprudence by tying it to its original meaning and intent. [Adam Winkler, “Gun Fight….”]

But Kates’ article wasn’t actually the first to articulate this “Individual Right” view of the Second Amendment. That distinction would belong to Robert Sprecher, a Chicago lawyer, in 1965. Every year, the American Bar Association (ABA) sponsored an essay competition on constitutional law issues. The winning essay is published in the ABA Journal, the most widely-circulated legal periodical. In 1965, the question posed was this: “What does the Second Amendment, guaranteeing the right of the people to keep and bear arms,’ mean? Does the guarantee extend to the keeping and bearing of arms for private purposes not connected with a militia?” The winning essay was written by Sprecher (who, incidentally, went on to being nominated to the federal bench by President Nixon). [Robert Sprecher, “The Lost Amendment,” American Bar Association Journal 51 (1965)]. In his essay, he argued that the original meaning of the Second Amendment had been lost. According to his research into its historical roots, the Founding Fathers sought to secure “the right to arm a state militia AND also the right of the individual to keep and bear arms” for personal self-protection. [Adam Winkler, “Gun Fight….”]

Clark Neily, who we will meet very shortly, considered Kates’ article in the Michigan Law Review the “seminal work” on the Individual Rights theory of the Second Amendment. It had a profound impact on his view of gun rights. To be fair, Kates didn’t deny that the Founding Fathers were concerned primarily with the militia when they conceived of, drafted, and adopted the Second Amendment, but the evidence (according to Kates) suggests that it was precisely by protecting the individual in his right to keep and bear arms that the Framers intended to protect the militia. As long as individuals had the fundamental right to keep and bear arms, unburdened by government, the militia would always exist. “The one thing all the Framers agreed on was the desirability of allowing citizens to arm themselves,” he wrote in his article. The Second Amendment was designed to keep the government from disarming the civilian population. And this makes sense being that it was the King George’s command to disarm the colonists that led to the shots that started the fight for independence. [Ibid]

In his research into the debates of the states in their ratifying conventions (1787-1790), Don Kates found that the number of states that recommended adding a guarantee of the right to have guns outnumbered those that recommended adding other rights. “Amending the Constitution to assure the right to arms was endorsed by five state ratifying conventions. By comparison, only four states suggested that the rights to assemble, to due process, and against cruel and unusual punishment be guaranteed, and only three states suggested that freedom of speech be guaranteed.” [Don Kates, “Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment,” Michigan Law Review].

While the wording of the Second Amendment had confused generations of Americans, Kates sought to actually understood what those words meant to the Founding Fathers (which is an “originalist” approach). Supporters of the “Militia Theory” of the amendment saw the grant of the right to keep and bear arms “to the people,” which seemed to indicate a collective right. That is, only when individuals assembled to form a militia does the Second Amendment protect their right to have and bear arms. It would also offer guidance as to which firearms would likely be protected. But Kates’ Michigan Law Review article offered a different explanation. A simple look at the Bill of Rights shows many other examples of provisions where the Founding Fathers and drafters took the phrase “the right of the people” to mean individual rights. The First Amendment, for example, refers to the right of the people…   to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The Fourth Amendment refers to the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The Tenth Amendment explicitly distinguished “the people” from “the States,” providing that the “powers delegated” to Congress “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the People.” So, then, a reading of the Second Amendment…   “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” would indicate that an individual right to be armed is articulated. [Ibid]

In 1989, one of the foremost liberal constitutional law professors in the country, Sanford Levinson, published an article in the Yale Law Journal endorsing Kates’ view of the Second Amendment. [Sanford Levinson, “The Embarrassing Second Amendment,” Yale Law Review 99 (1989): 637].

In the years following Kates’ article in the Michigan Law Review, and particularly in the years 1989-1995, more academic research was done regarding the Second Amendment than had been done in the previous 200 years.

Kates would become the most influential proponent of the view that the Founding Fathers intended the Second Amendment to guarantee the right of private individuals to own firearms for their protection and that of their families.

So then comes the turn of the century… early 2002. Legal scholars began to wonder what exactly is the nature of the right guaranteed by the Second Amendment. There has been growing scholarship on the original meaning of the Second Amendment which tended to protect both the right to bear arms to serve in a militia and to bear arms for self-protection yet the prevailing earlier view had been the Collective or Militia Theory only.

What does the Second Amendment really mean? Does it only assure Americans that Congress would NOT have the power to destroy state militias by disarming the people? Or does it also assure Americans that Congress will NOT have the power to deny their right to have firearms for self-protection?   Does it confer a Collective right or also an Individual Right?

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.”   [Collective Right]

“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.”   [Individual Right]

OR, are there two types of gun rights articulated? Are there two types of rights that “Shall Not be Infringed” – the right of a state to have a well-regulated militia (hence, individuals, which necessarily comprise the militia, must have the right to keep and bear arms to serve in it) and right of the individual to keep and bear arms for personal protection. Again, both of these reflect a general right of self-defense and preservation and both absolutely are grounded in the right of the individual to keep and bear arms.

The question was this: Would the Supreme Court be willing – finally – to rule on a modern-day Second Amendment case? Would the time be right? Would the Court be likely to embrace the new and growing view of the Second Amendment, which is that it guarantees the individual a right to keep and bear arms for self-defense and self-protection (including against a tyrannical government)?

At a happy hour in DC in early 2002, two young lawyers who worked at the Institute for Justice, Clark Neily III and Steve Simpson, were drinking and talking constitutional law – always a powerful combination. Their discussion turned to the right to bear arms. They noted that for too many decades, the federal courts held that the Second Amendment protected only the right to have guns for the purpose of serving in a state militia, but that over the past 15-20 years or so, there have been important developments in the understanding and history of the amendment. Characterizing themselves as libertarians, the believed that it is individuals who should be able to decide for themselves how best to safeguard their lives and to protect their homes and their families, without government insinuating its political agenda. In their alcohol-induced legal excitement, they suggested that the time might be ripe to get the Supreme Court to reconsider the meaning of the Second Amendment.

The Growing Scholarship and the Shift in the Understanding of the Meaning of The Second Amendment:

  • Robert Sprecher’s article in the American Bar Association Journal (1965)
  • Don Kates’ article in the Michigan Law Review (1983)
  • Sanford Levinson’s article in the Yale Law Journal (1989) .
  • President George W. Bush, through his Attorney General John Ashcroft, announced his administration’s rejection of long-standing White House policy regarding the Second Amendment (Bush rejected the Militia Theory in favor the Individual Right’s view). The NRA, a major backer of Bush, supported him on this policy change.
  • In 2001, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (in Texas) took Ashcroft’s cue and held that earlier rulings interpreting the Second Amendment to apply only to state militias had been wrong. “The original meaning of the Second Amendment was to guarantee individuals, not just militias, the right to bear arms.” [United States v. Emerson]. ** This case marked a profound shift in Second Amendment jurisprudence.
  • In the 1980’s, President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general, Edwin Meese III sought to add as many strong conservative judges and justices to the federal court system. He particularly sought to appoint those who adopted the philosophy of Originalism. During his first two years in office, President Reagan appointed half of the federal judges in America, along with three new Supreme Court justices.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the Everson case. Everson was a gun owner who had threatened to hurt innocent people, and because of his threats, had a restraining order against him by a court of law. Perhaps the Court declined to take the case because the person challenging the gun control law, Timothy Joe Everson, was a dangerous man; he was an offensive challenger. Perhaps, as Neily and Simpson, reasoned, the Supreme Court might be more inclined to hear a Second Amendment case if it involved a law-abiding person who simply wanted or needed to own a gun for self-defense.

 

BUILDING THE PERFECT CASE (the “Test” Case)

First, of course, the Court has to be receptive to what the lawyers want to ask of it, which is to abandon the Military Theory of the right to keep and bear arms in favor of an Individual Right to do so. Was the Supreme Court conservative enough at the time? At the time (2002-2005), the conservatives members were Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, with Anthony Kennedy as the swing vote. Liberal members were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, John Paul Stevens, and Stephen Breyer. [Sandra Day O’Connor stepped down in 2005, and President Bush nominated John Roberts to replace him. But just before the Senate Confirmation Committee was set to act, Rehnquist died unexpectedly. So Bush nominated Roberts to replace him as Chief Justice and Samuel Alito to replace O’Connor. Roberts was confirmed in September 2005 and Alito was confirmed in Jan. 2006].

The Court was conservative compared to the progressive Warren and Burger courts. Earl Warren was Chief Justice from 1953-69 and presided over such landmark cases as Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington v. Schempp (1963), which took prayer and Bible readings out of schools, respectively), Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), somehow finding a blanket right to privacy and thus serving as the precursor to Roe v. Wade, and enlarging due process rights for criminal defendants (including Miranda rights and publicly-funded attorneys). Warren Burger was Chief Justice from 1969-1986 and presided over such cases as Roe v. Wade (1973) which articulated the right to an abortion, Regents of the University of California v. Baake (1978) which upheld affirmative action policies in universities, and several cases defining the limits of free speech and free press.

A good case for the justices of the Supreme Court to re-address the Second Amendment is one with sympathetic, law-abiding plaintiffs who have an understandable reason to be armed, preferably ordinary individuals who rightfully fear violent criminals or who live in a crime-ridden area. The best-case scenario would be to have individuals who have actually been threatened with harm or death or who have already been victims of crime. A good case would be one that reaches the ultimate merits of the issue (which is that the Second Amendment affirms a constitutional and individual right to keep and bear arms) and not be decided on any extraneous issues. A good case would have constitutional significance.

Neily and Simpson began to plan on how to get a Second Amendment case to the relatively conservative Supreme Court.

(I)  The first decision to make was which city’s gun control law would they target. The easy answer was Washington DC.

(a) It was the strictest gun control law in the nation

(b) Under the law, everyone, even law-abiding citizens, were banned from owning a handgun

(c) Even if an individual owned a shotgun or rifle for a legal purpose under the law (hunting), it would be ILLEGAL (a crime) to use that legally-owned firearm for self-defense should an armed robber or murder break into his home

(d) DC is technically ruled by the federal government; it is not a state but rather, a federal territory. Although DC was granted “home rule,” the Constitution gives Congress the ultimate authority over the area. (That is why Ron Paul was able to seek and pass legislation to try to limit the effect of the gun-control law). The Second Amendment (as all of the Bill of Rights) is a restriction only on the federal government. [That is, by challenging DC’s gun law instead of, say New York City’s gun law, Neily and Simpson would only need to convince the Supreme Court that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of individuals to have guns. That would be a challenge, given the Miller case precedent, but it would be less difficult than having to persuade the Court to also rule that the amendment applies to the States through the 14th Amendment. The McDonald v. City of Chicago case would do that in 2010].

(II)  Neily and Simpson were relatively unknowns, with no money to build the case. They would need to find the perfect person to finance the case. A friend of Neily’s, a fellow co-clerk in DC and a wealthy individual, Robert Levy agreed to finance. He was then a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. (Levy decided to go to law school at the age of 50. Although he was absolutely brilliant and could have gone to any law school he chose, he decided to attend George Mason Law School because it was a conservative law school. Its professors lean clearly to the right unlike the professors at almost all other law schools). At this point, Simpson had to drop out because of the pressures of his job.

III. Next, Neily and Levy had to find a suitable attorney to lead the case. Neither Neily or Levy considered themselves capable to do so. The decided on a young libertarian lawyer named Alan Gura who they remembered in their libertarian circles as a proponent of both guns and marijuana being legal (“individuals have the right to do with their lives without government interference”). Gura was sharp but he had never argued a case before the Supreme Court.

IV.  The second major decision to make was to select the Perfect Plaintiff (ie, the person to represent the issue, the lead name on the case).

(a) Dick Heller. Dick Heller was a white man who worked as a security guard at a federal building in Washington – the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judicial Center. He lived in DC across the street from an abandoned federal housing project. That housing project was built in the 1960’s, in furtherance of LBJ’s “war on poverty.” Thirty years later, the units were run down and decrepit – with rotted out walls and collapsing ceilings. The only people who found the place habitable were heroin and crack addicts. Consequently, a drug gang moved into the area and operated out of the complex. The drugs and the gang brought with them violence – routine shootings and killings. The police were happy to ignore the area. But Dick Heller had to exist in this neighborhood. At night he would hear the gunshots and try to ignore them. One night he returned home to find a stray bullet had struck his front door. At work, he carried a handgun on his hip to protect the people who worked there (federal employees), but because of DC’s then 20-year-old gun ban, he had to leave it there when he returned home each day. In 2002, prompted by the suggestion of a close friend, Heller applied for a gun permit and went through the frustrating and futile exercise of applying for a gun permit. Also at the suggestion of his friend, he documented the ordeal as a testament to the practical impossibility of obtaining and keeping a gun for home protection in the district.

While there was rarely any threat of violence at work, the situation at home was very different. There existed a real threat, an actual threat, of violence in his neighborhood. Yet the DC gun control law banned him from possessing a firearm to defend himself.

The only negative that Neily, Levy, and Gura could find (which might have an unfavorable impression on the Court) was that Heller was overly obsessed with his gun rights and was prone to making potentially disturbing political statements.

(b) Shelly Parker. In 2002, Shelly Parker, an elderly African-American woman and former nurse, moved to a neighborhood not far from Capitol Hill, in an area where drug dealers sold their drugs right out in the open. Determined to keep her neighborhood clean, she became a one-woman Community Watch, keeping an eye out on the streets and calling the police whenever she saw someone buying drugs. The drug dealers caught on and responded with intimidation – smashing her car window, stealing her security camera, and driving a car into her back fence. One night, a drug dealer stood at her gate and shouted: “Bitch, I’ll kill you! I live on this block too.” Parker began to fear for her life, believing that the drug dealers would eventually make good on their threats. When she called the police to tell them of the threats, one officer told her point blank: “Get a gun.” The officer certainly knew that owning a gun was against the law, but he also knew that it was the only sure way to protect her life. He understood, as she did, that the DC gun law left citizens like her defenseless and putting her life in danger. As Parker said: “The only thing between me and somebody entering my home are harsh words. That’s all I have.” Parker was an attractive plaintiff for many reasons: She was a very sympathetic elderly woman, defenseless, victimized, in actual fear of her life, and African-American. She had stood up to violent drug dealers at great risk to her life. Why does it matter that she was African-American? Because history has been cruel to African-Americans in this country. First they were slaves and even when they were freed, the South legislatively imposed second-class status on them with the segregation laws known as the Jim Crow laws. After Reconstruction and as the Southern states were trying to re-establish their white dominated society, the Ku Klux Klan went around terrorizing and intimidating free slaves but most importantly, confiscating their guns. Laws were put in place in the post-Reconstruction South (the Jim Crow South) forbidding blacks to own guns, or making it almost impossible to get one. Freed slaves were intentionally left defenseless.

Gura chose Shelly Parker. She was a far more sympathetic and compelling plaintiff.

 

THE ROCKY ROAD to the SUPREME COURT:

1).  Gura filed the lawsuit in the District Court for the District of Columbia on February 10, 2003. As mentioned above, the lead plaintiff chosen was Shelly Parker and so the case name, as filed, was Parker v. District of Columbia.

2).  After Gura filed the complaint against the District of Columbia, the NRA, totally unexpectedly, filed its own lawsuit.. In that lawsuit, the NRA not only asserting the “Individual Rights” view of the Second Amendment but also including what is called “trap doors” – additional, extraneous claims that the courts could use to decide the case by avoiding the Second Amendment question. Neily and Simpson decided to bring the case, and Levy put his own money behind it, NOT to simply strike down the DC’s handgun ban. They wanted to resurrect the Second Amendment. The NRA wanted just the opposite. Note, the NRA hired as its leading attorney the renowned Steve Halbrook – the nation’s leading expert on the right to bear arms. Halbrook was Neily and Levy’s first choice, but unfortunately, he was too expensive for their budget. Halbrook had plenty of experience trying gun cases; Gura had none.

Gura did not expect the NRA’s lawsuit. He had thought the organization would have supported their lawsuit to assert the Individual Rights view of the Second Amendment. The NRA’s concerns, however, were two-fold (and conflicting): (1) On the one hand, it didn’t want to challenge the prevailing “Militia Theory” view of the Second Amendment because gun control laws were their bread and butter. Nothing advances its fund-raising efforts more than alerting gun enthusiasts and club members that their gun rights are being infringed by gun-control laws. (2) On the other hand, the NRA was in favor of the individual rights view but they thought the timing for such a lawsuit was not right – they could not be sure that they had the necessary votes on the Supreme Court to shift from the Militia view. [Justice Sandra Day O’Connor had disappointed conservatives by siding strongly with progressives on abortion and on affirmative action, and Justice John Paul Stevens was uber liberal and anti-gun. Both were likely to be replaced by President Bush].

3).  The NRA sought to have the cases consolidated, thereby hijacking Gura’s case by bringing in the “trap door” claims. Also, the NRA hoped that it would be Halbrook, and not Gura, who would argue the case. Essentially, the point of the NRA’s litigation tactic was this: “If we can’t control the litigation, there won’t be any litigation!” Luckily, in July 2003, the district court judge, Emmett Sullivan, reached a decision – the two cases should not be consolidated. Alan Gura successfully survived the first hurdle.

4).  Unable to derail Gura’s lawsuit with consolidation, the NRA tried Plan B – It convinced Senator Orrin Hatch to introduce a bill in Congress, the “District of Columbia Personal Protection Act” which would over-turn the DC gun law and permit DC residents to possess handguns. If the bill passed then Gura’s lawsuit would be moot and thrown out of court. [The bill passed the Senate and was fast-tracked to the House floor in 2007 where it was expected to pass, but then the shooting at Virginia Tech happened on April 16 and it doomed the bill].

5).  In March 2004, Judge Sullivan ruled that the court was bound by the US v. Miller ruling (1939) which held, although ambiguously, that the Second Amendment applied only to state militias and therefore dismissed Gura’s lawsuit. Gura actually expected this. What he didn’t expect was how long it would take for Sullivan to make it. In the meantime, the judge handling the NRA case had also issued a dismissal. Because the NRA case was dismissed first, it meant that Steve Halbrook had the chance to file an appeal before Gura did – which he did. Timing is everything. Here is why it mattered: Halbrook filed an appeal on behalf of the NRA and so when Gura filed his appeal, the DC Circuit Court (of Appeals) ruled that Gura’s case would be put on hold pending the ruling of the appeal in the NRA case. In other words, Halbrook would get to argue his case before a panel of appellate judges and Gura would not. The NRA, in effect, now had control of the litigation regarding the DC gun control law.

6).  In 2005, the DC Circuit Court heard the NRA’s appeal. Being persuaded by an argument that DOJ Attorney General John Ashcroft made asserting that the plaintiffs in the NRA’s case lacked standing, being that none of them had tried to register a handgun nor been arrested for having one, the NRA’s lawsuit was dismissed. [Remember that Dick Heller had standing; he had an actual injury. He not only applied for a permit for his revolver but he documented how frustrating and futile the process was]. Gura survived yet another hurdle, because with the NRA case out of the picture, the DC Circuit could then hear Parker’s appeal.

7).  Gura appeared before the 3-judge panel of the DC Circuit in early December 2006. The attorney for the District of Columbia, Todd Kim (a distinguished Harvard Law School graduate) challenged all of the plaintiffs as not having standing to sue the District of Columbia over its gun law. He insisted that none of them had really been hurt; none had suffered a direct injury as a result of the gun ban. The panel agreed as to all plaintiffs except Dick Heller. Heller had been directly harmed. He had applied for a gun permit and was denied. And so, in 2007, with the DC Circuit Court’s ruling, Parker v. District of Columbia was renamed Heller v. District of Columbia, with Dick Heller as the sole plaintiff.

8).  In February 2007, the DC Circuit handed down is decision in Parker v. District of Columbia (renamed, Heller v. District of Columbia), with 2 of the 3 judges ruling against the District of Columbia. The majority opinion, written by Judge Silberman, strongly endorsed the Individual Rights view of the Second Amendment. “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms.” Silberman’s arguments were very closely aligned with the arguments made twenty-five years earlier by Don Kates in his Michigan Law Review article. “The People,” whose right is guaranteed in the Second Amendment, are the same individuals who are guaranteed the rights enumerated in the First and Fourth Amendments, and the “Militia” refers to all able-bodied citizens who were expected to have their own guns, to be trained and experienced, and even comfortable, in their use when called into service. In other words, because able-bodied citizens had the right to keep and bear arms, they could be called to serve in a state militia. Arming the militia may have been the primary reason the Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment, as Silberman wrote, but it was not the only one. The right to bear arms that the colonists (and our Founding Fathers and founding generation) inherited from England also included the right to defend one’s home from violent attack and the right to defend the individual from the tyranny of government. Reaching the ultimate issue, the constitutionality of the DC gun ban, Silberman concluded that the city’s total ban on handguns, as well as its requirement that firearms in the home be kept nonfunctional even when necessary for self-defense, violated the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense.

9).  Unfortunately, the ruling only applied in the District of Columbia. It didn’t stand as binding precedent anywhere else in the country. Neily, Levy, and Gura’s goal all along was to try a Second Amendment case with constitutional significance. Their goal was a definitive ruling by the US Supreme Court. The problem, however, was that the losing party has the right to file an appeal and not the winning party. If the District of Columbia decided not to seek an appeal and instead, just amend its gun law, Neily, Levy, and Gura were screwed. But as luck would have it, on September 4, 2007, the District of Columbia filed a “Writ of Certiorari” with the Supreme Court, requesting the court to review its case.

10).  On November 20, 2007, the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia received word that the Supreme Court had agreed to hear their appeal.

11).  Also in 2007, in anticipation of the upcoming case, the state of Montana’s lawmakers passed a resolution demanding that the Supreme Court hold that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. The resolution said that when Montana agreed to join the Union in 1889, its people believed that the US Constitution protected the right of individuals to possess guns for self-protection, and not just a right tied to state militias. According to the Resolution, Supreme Court ruling rejecting the individual rights view of the Second Amendment would “violate Montana’s Compact with the United States” and Montana “reserves all usual rights and remedies under historic compact/contract law if its Compact should be violated.” In other words, the Second Amendment’s meaning as an individual right to keep and bear arms was so critical that Montana was threatening to secede from the Union should the Court rule against such a view.

12).  On March 18, 2008, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Heller case. Walter Dellinger represented the District of Columbia and Alan Gura represented Dick Heller. Each lawyer was initially given 30 minutes to argue the merits of its case (although they were eventually given some extra time). U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement was given 15 minutes to present the federal government’s views. Almost immediately, Scalia’s questions and comments made it abundantly clear that he was strongly in favor of the Individual Right view of the Second Amendment. And Gura was fairly confident that Kennedy would agree with the Individual Rights view as well. Heller’s team was optimistic.

13)  The case was decided on June 26, 2008. On that day, the lawyers were called to the Supreme Court building and waited for the justices to file in and take their seats. After an opening opinion was read, Chief Justice John Roberts announced: “Justice Scalia will have our decision in 07-290.” That was the docket number of the Heller case. Once it was announced that Scalia was the author of the opinion, “that was when we knew the opinion was in our favor,” said Gura. It was the first time in American history that a gun control law violated with Second Amendment to the Constitution !! It was a long-time coming, but the Supreme Court finally articulated the correct meaning and intent of the Second Amendment.

 

THE HELLER OPINION IS HANDED DOWN –  [District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008). https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/07pdf/07-290.pdf]

The Supreme Court, in Heller, AFFIRMED the DC Circuit Court ruling.

The opinion, written by Justice Scalia, can be summed up by these excerpts:

We turn first to the meaning of the Second Amendment…. In interpreting this text, we are guided by the principle that “the Constitution was written to be understood by the voters; its words and phrases were used in their normal and ordinary as distinguished from technical meaning.” The two sides in this case have set out very different interpretations of the Amendment. Petitioners and today’s dissenting Justices believe that it protects only the right to possess and carry a firearm in connection with militia service. Respondent Heller argues that it protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.

The Second Amendment is naturally divided into two parts: its prefatory clause and its operative clause. The former does not limit the latter grammatically, but rather announces a purpose. The Amendment could be rephrased, “Because a well-regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

Let’s first look at the “Operative Clause.” The first salient feature of the operative clause is that it codifies a “right of the people.” The unamended Constitution and the Bill of Rights use the phrase “right of the people” two other times, in the First Amendment’s Assembly-and-Petition Clause and in the Fourth Amendment’s Search-and-Seizure Clause. The Ninth Amendment uses very similar terminology (“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”). All three of these instances unambiguously refer to individual rights, not “collective” rights, or rights that may be exercised only through participation in some corporate body. There are three provisions of the Constitution that refer to “the people” in a context other than “rights”—the famous preamble (“We the people”), §2 of Article I (providing that “the people” will choose members of the House), and the Tenth Amendment (providing that those powers not given the Federal Government remain with “the States” or “the people”). Those provisions arguably refer to “the people” acting collectively—but they deal with the exercise or reservation of powers, not rights.   Nowhere else in the Constitution does a “right” attributed to “the people” refer to anything other than an individual right.

This contrasts markedly with the phrase “the militia” in the prefatory clause. As we will describe below, the “militia” in colonial America consisted of a subset of “the people”—those who were male, able bodied, and within a certain age range. Reading the Second Amendment as protecting only the right to “keep and bear Arms” in an organized militia therefore fits poorly with the operative clause’s description of the holder of that right as “the people.” We start therefore with a strong presumption that the Second Amendment right is exercised individually and belongs to all Americans.

The most natural reading of “keep Arms” in the Second Amendment is to “have weapons.” “Keep arms” was simply a common way of referring to possessing arms, for militiamen and everyone else. At the time of the founding, as now, to “bear” meant to “carry.” In 1998, Justice Ginsburg wrote that “surely a most familiar meaning is, as the Constitution’s Second Amendment . . . indicates: ‘wear, bear, or carry . . . upon the person or in the clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose . . . of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person.’”

From our review of founding-era sources, we conclude that this natural meaning was also the meaning that “bear arms” had in the 18th century. In numerous instances, “bear arms” was unambiguously used to refer to the carrying of weapons outside of an organized militia. The most prominent examples are those most relevant to the Second Amendment: Nine state constitutional provisions written in the 18th century or the first two decades of the 19th, which enshrined a right of citizens to “bear arms in defense of themselves and the state” or “bear arms in defense of himself and the state.” It is clear from those formulations that “bear arms” did not refer only to carrying a weapon in an organized military unit.

Putting all of these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation. This meaning is strongly confirmed by the historical background of the Second Amendment. We look to this because it has always been widely understood that the Second Amendment, like the First and Fourth Amendments, codified a pre-existing right. The very text of the Second Amendment implicitly recognizes the pre-existence of the right and declares only that it “shall not be infringed.” As we said in United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U. S. 542, 553 (1876), “this is not a right granted by the Constitution. Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The Second amendment declares that it shall not be infringed . . . .”

Between the Restoration and the Glorious Revolution, the Stuart Kings Charles II and James II succeeded in using select militias loyal to them to suppress political dissidents, in part by disarming their opponents. Under the auspices of the 1671 Game Act, for example, the Catholic James II had ordered general disarmaments of regions home to his Protestant enemies. These experiences caused Englishmen to be extremely wary of concentrated military forces run by the state and to be jealous of their arms. They accordingly obtained an assurance from William and Mary, in the Declaration of Right (which was codified as the English Bill of Rights), that Protestants would never be disarmed: “That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law.” This right has long been understood to be the predecessor to our Second Amendment. It was clearly an individual right, having nothing whatever to do with service in a militia. To be sure, it was an individual right not available to the whole population, given that it was restricted to Protestants, and like all written English rights it was held only against the Crown, not Parliament. But it was secured to them as individuals. By the time of the founding, the right to have arms had become fundamental for English subjects. According to William Blackstone, whose works (“Commentaries on the Laws of England”), this Court has held, constituted the preeminent authority on English law for the founding generation, cited the arms provision of the Bill of Rights as one of the fundamental rights of Englishmen. [See Blackstone, Volume 1, pp. 136, 139–140]. His description of it cannot possibly be thought to tie it to militia or military service. It was, he said, “the natural right of resistance and self-preservation” and “the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defense.” (pg. 139)

Thus, the right secured in 1689 as a result of the Stuarts’ abuses was by the time of the founding understood to be an individual right protecting against both public and private violence. And, of course, what the Stuarts had tried to do to their political enemies, George III had tried to do to the colonists. In the tumultuous decades of the 1760’s and 1770’s, the Crown began to disarm the inhabitants of the most rebellious areas. That provoked polemical reactions by Americans invoking their rights as Englishmen to keep arms. A New York article of April 1769 said that “it is a natural right which the people have reserved to themselves, confirmed by the Bill of Rights, to keep arms for their own defense.” They understood the right to enable individuals to defend themselves. As the most important early American edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries (by the law professor and former Anti-Federalist St. George Tucker) made clear in the notes to the description of the arms right, Americans understood the “right of self-preservation” as permitting a citizen to “repel force by force” when “the intervention of society in his behalf, may be too late to prevent an injury.” [See Blackstone’s Commentaries, Vol. 1; pp. 145–146 (1803)]

Thus there seems to us no doubt, on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms. Of course the right was not unlimited, just as the First Amendment’s right of free speech was not. Thus, we do not read the Second Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation, just as we do not read the First Amendment to protect the right of citizens to speak for any purpose.

Three important founding-era legal scholars interpreted the Second Amendment in published writings. All three understood it to protect an individual right unconnected with militia service. St. George Tucker’s version of Blackstone’s Commentaries, as we explained above, conceived of the Blackstonian arms right as necessary for self-defense. He equated that right, absent the religious and class-based restrictions, with the US Bill of Rights’ Second Amendment. Tucker elaborated on the Second Amendment: “This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty . . . . The right to self-defense is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine the right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.” He believed that the English game laws had abridged the right by prohibiting “keeping a gun or other engine for the destruction of game.” He later grouped the right with some of the individual rights included in the First Amendment and said that if “a law be passed by congress, prohibiting” any of those rights, it would “be the province of the judiciary to pronounce whether any such act were constitutional, or not; and if not, to acquit the accused . . . .” It is unlikely that Tucker was referring to a person’s being “accused” of violating a law making it a crime to bear arms in a state militia.

In 1825, William Rawle, a prominent lawyer who had been a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly that ratified the Bill of Rights, published an influential treatise, which analyzed the Second Amendment as follows: “The first principle is a declaration that a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state; a proposition from which few will dissent. . . . “The corollary, from the first position is, that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. “The prohibition is general. No clause in the constitution could by any rule of construction be conceived to give to congress a power to disarm the people. Such a flagitious attempt could only be made under some general pretense by a state legislature. But if in any blind pursuit of inordinate power, either should attempt it, this amendment may be appealed to as a restraint on both.” Like Tucker, Rawle regarded the English game laws as violating the right codified in the Second Amendment. Rawle clearly differentiated between the people’s right to bear arms and their service in a militia: “In a people permitted and accustomed to bear arms, we have the rudiments of a militia, which properly consists of armed citizens, divided into military bands, and instructed at least in part, in the use of arms for the purposes of war.” Rawle further said that the Second Amendment right ought not “be abused to the disturbance of the public peace,” such as by assembling with other armed individuals “for an unlawful purpose”—statements that make no sense if the right does not extend to any individual purpose.. Story explained that the English Bill of Rights had also included a “right to bear arms,” a right that, as we have discussed, had nothing to do with militia service. He then equated the English right with the Second Amendment: “§1891. A similar provision [to the Second Amendment] in favor of protestants (for to them it is confined) is to be found in the bill of rights of 1688, it being declared, ‘that the subjects, which are protestants, may have arms for their defense suitable to their condition, and as allowed by law.’ But under various pretenses the effect of this provision has been greatly narrowed; and it is at present in England more nominal than real, as a defensive privilege.” This comparison to the Declaration of Right would not make sense if the Second Amendment right was the right to use a gun in a militia, which was plainly not what the English right protected.

As the Tennessee Supreme Court recognized thirty-eight years after Story wrote his Commentaries, “the passage from Story, shows clearly that this right was intended . . . and was guaranteed to, and to be exercised and enjoyed by the citizen as such, and not by him as a soldier, or in defense solely of his political rights.” Story’s Commentaries also cite as support Tucker and Rawle, both of whom clearly viewed the right as unconnected to militia service. In addition, in a shorter 1840 work, Story wrote: “One of the ordinary modes, by which tyrants accomplish their purposes without resistance, is, by disarming the people, and making it an offence to keep arms, and by substituting a regular army in the stead of a resort to the militia.”

Antislavery advocates routinely invoked the right to bear arms for self-defense. Joel Tiffany, for example, citing Blackstone’s description of the right, wrote that “the right to keep and bear arms, also implies the right to use them if necessary in self-defense; without this right to use the guaranty would have hardly been worth the paper it consumed.” In his famous Senate speech about the 1856 “Bleeding Kansas” conflict, Charles Sumner proclaimed: “The rifle has ever been the companion of the pioneer and, under God, his tutelary protector against the red man and the beast of the forest. Never was this efficient weapon more needed in just self-defense, than now in Kansas, and at least one article in our National Constitution must be blotted out, before the complete right to it can in any way be impeached. And yet such is the madness of the hour, that, in defiance of the solemn guarantee, embodied in the Amendments to the Constitution, that ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,’ the people of Kansas have been arraigned for keeping and bearing them, and the Senator from South Carolina has had the face to say openly, on this floor, that they should be disarmed—of course, that the fanatics of Slavery, his allies and constituents, may meet no impediment.”

19th-century pre-Civil War cases that interpreted the Second Amendment universally support an individual right unconnected to militia service. In the famous fugitive-slave case of Johnson v. Tompkins, 13 F. Cas. 840, 850, 852 (CC Pa. 1833), Baldwin, sitting as a circuit judge, cited both the Second Amendment and the Pennsylvania analogue for his conclusion that a citizen has “a right to carry arms in defense of his property or person, and to use them, if either were assailed with such force, numbers or violence as made it necessary for the protection or safety of either.” In Nunn v. State, 1 Ga. 243, 251 (1846), the Georgia Supreme Court construed the Second Amendment as protecting the “natural right of self-defense” and therefore struck down a ban on carrying pistols openly. Its opinion perfectly captured the way in which the operative clause of the Second Amendment furthers the purpose announced in the prefatory clause, in continuity with the English right: “The right of the whole people, old and young, men, women and boys, and not militia only, to keep and bear arms of every description, and not such merely as are used by the militia, shall not be infringed, curtailed, or broken in upon, in the smallest degree; and all this for the important end to be attained: the rearing up and qualifying a well-regulated militia, so vitally necessary to the security of a free State. Our opinion is, that any law, State or Federal, is repugnant to the Constitution, and void, which contravenes this right, originally belonging to our forefathers, trampled underfoot by Charles I. and his two wicked sons and successors, re-established by the revolution of 1688, conveyed to this land of liberty by the colonists, and finally incorporated conspicuously in our own Magna Charta!”

Likewise, in State v. Chandler, 5 La. Ann. 489, 490 (1850), the Louisiana Supreme Court held that citizens had a right to carry arms openly: “This is the right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, and which is calculated to incite men to a manly and noble defense of themselves, if necessary, and of their country, without any tendency to secret advantages and unmanly assassinations.” the state constitutional guarantee of the right to “bear” arms did not prohibit the banning of concealed weapons. In 1833, the Tennessee Supreme Court had treated the state constitutional provision as conferring a right “of all the free citizens of the State to keep and bear arms for their defense.” 21 years later the court held that the “keep” portion of the state constitutional right included the right to personal self-defense: “The right to keep arms involves, necessarily, the right to use such arms for all the ordinary purposes, and in all the ordinary modes usual in the country, and to which arms are adapted, limited by the duties of a good citizen in times of peace.”

Similarly, it was plainly the understanding in the post-Civil War Congress that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to use arms for self-defense. J. Ordronaux, in his 1891 book “Constitutional Legislation in the United States” 241–242 (1891), wrote: “The right to bear arms has always been the distinctive privilege of freemen. Aside from any necessity of self-protection to the person, it represents among all nations power coupled with the exercise of a certain jurisdiction. . . . It was not necessary that the right to bear arms should be granted in the Constitution, for it had always existed.”

Justice Scalia distinguished the United States v. Miller (1939) ruling this way: “It is particularly wrongheaded to read Miller for more than what it said, because the case did not even purport to be a thorough examination of the Second Amendment…. Miller stands only for the proposition that the Second Amendment right, whatever its nature, extends only to certain types of weapons.”

We turn finally to the law at issue here. As we have said, the law totally bans handgun possession in the home. It also requires that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock at all times, rendering it inoperable. As the quotations earlier in this opinion demonstrate, the inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right. The handgun ban amounts to a prohibition of an entire class of “arms” that is overwhelmingly chosen by American society for that lawful purpose. The prohibition extends, moreover, to the home, where the need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute. Under any of the standards of scrutiny that we have applied to enumerated constitutional rights, banning from the home “the most preferred firearm in the nation to keep and use for protection of one’s home and family,” would fail constitutional muster.

We know of no other enumerated constitutional right whose core protection has been subjected to a freestanding “interest-balancing” approach. The very enumeration of the right takes out of the hands of government – even the Third Branch of Government (the federal courts) – the power to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the right is really worth insisting upon. A constitutional guarantee subject to future judges’ assessments of its usefulness is no constitutional guarantee at all. Constitutional rights are enshrined with the scope they were understood to have when the people adopted them, whether or not future legislatures or (yes) even future judges think that scope too broad. We would not apply an “interest-balancing” approach to the prohibition of a peaceful neo-Nazi march through Skokie. The First Amendment contains the freedom-of-speech guarantee that the people ratified, which included exceptions for obscenity, libel, and disclosure of state secrets, but not for the expression of extremely unpopular and wrong-headed views. The Second Amendment is no different. Like the First, it is the very product of an interest-balancing by the people.

Since this case represents this Court’s first in-depth examination of the Second Amendment, one should not expect it to clarify the entire field. But whatever else it leaves to future evaluation, it surely elevates above all other interests the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.

In sum, we hold that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense. Assuming that Heller is not disqualified from the exercise of Second Amendment rights, the District must permit him to register his handgun and must issue him a license to carry it in the home.

Justice Scalia spent 45 pages of the majority opinion addressing the history, and especially the original meaning and the intent of the Second Amendment (summed by appropriate excerpts above). He distinguished the United States v. Miller (1939) case by pointing out that the Court didn’t even attempt to do a thorough examination of the Second Amendment, and then announced that the clear purpose of the Second Amendment was, and IS, to guarantee an individual right to Keep and Bear Arms for self-defense. Finally, he concluded by announcing that, because the DC Gun Ban denies Dick Heller and other DC residents of this right, it is unconstitutional.

The Heller decision would be the first time in American history that a gun control law was found to violate the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

 

CONCLUSION (and POST-HELLER GUN RIGHTS):

We say the Heller opinion was an “ORIGINALIST” opinion because the analysis of the Second Amendment was based purely on an examination of history, with an emphasis on what the words and intent of the “Right to Keep and Bear Arms” meant at the time it was adopted by the American colonies and then when they became states and then finally when they incorporated into the federal Union with the Constitution.

Indeed, District of Columbia v. Heller is the most significant case which applied “originalism” in analyzing the Constitution, and together with the companion case, McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010), addressed below, are the most significant Second Amendment cases to date. We can expect another similarly significant case this fall – New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York. The New York State Rifle & Pistol Association is the NY state chapter of the NRA.

Originalism is a concept regarding the interpretation of the Constitution that asserts that all terms and provisions in the Constitution must be interpreted based on the original understanding of the authors or the people at the time it was ratified. Justice Scalia was the most famous proponent of Originalism.

In 2010, the Supreme Court heard the companion case to HellerMcDonald v. City of Chicago. Heller announced what our Second Amendment rights are with respect to action by the federal government. With McDonald, the Supreme Court announced what our Second Amendment rights are with respect to action by the States. The case involved a state gun control law, as opposed to a federal gun control law. The case arose in 2008, when Otis McDonald, a retired African American custodian living in a neighborhood fraught with robberies, shootings, and other crimes, and others filed suit to challenge provisions of a 1982 Chicago law that, among other things, generally banned the new registration of handguns and made registration a prerequisite of possession of a firearm. McDonald alleged that the law violated his right to possess and carry weapons, which the Supreme Court had found to be protected by the Second Amendment in District of Columbia v. Heller. In reaching a ruling in McDonald’s favor, the Court held that the Second Amendment is one of the liberty rights to be incorporated on the states thru the 14th Amendment, and therefore states cannot pass laws to violate or burden that right.

Together, District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago cases articulate the view that the Second Amendment recognizes and protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms for self-defense. The cases reach that conclusion after an in-depth and judicious review of the history and roots of the amendment.

However, and unfortunately, the cases have not seemed to stop the passage of gun-control laws or talk of more and more federal gun-control laws. Besides the general ignorance of many of our federal legislators and our state legislators, and the ever-important goal of disarming citizens to prevent their violence upon one another (always the risk in a free society), there are some limitations with the ruling and clearly ways government can get around it (or frustrate the exercise of the right protected in the Second Amendment:

(1) First of all, Dick Heller found no relief, even after spending 7 years litigating his challenge and winning perhaps one of the most significant cases in the Supreme Court. The ruling was not quite the sweeping gun-freedom victory he expected and it certainly didn’t go far enough to abolish burdensome gun permitting regulations, especially in his home of DC. Despite his court victory, he still was unable to acquire a gun permit. In the weeks since the Heller decision, the city hastily enacted a new and lengthy set of regulations and so when Heller went to the station with his revolver, he was told that he didn’t bring the many documents that the district had decided were required to register a handgun. He could take his revolver back home, he was told, but he would still have to keep it trigger-locked and unloaded. Not much had changed.

(2) Both the Heller and McDonald rulings addressed the right to keep and bear arms in one’s home. The lawsuit did not address whether the Second Amendment guarantees any right beyond that and hence the courts did not rule so. In October (of this year, 2019), the Supreme Court will hear a case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York, which addresses this very question.

(3) Related to the question of whether the Second Amendment extends to gun rights outside one’s home, the Heller and McDonald rulings also leave open the question of whether conceal carry is covered.

(4) Scalia’s majority opinion in the Heller case included this proviso: “Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt” on longstanding regulations such as restrictions on felons “or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” In his opinion, he wrote: “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Apparently, Scalia was carving out areas where he believed Congress could rightfully legislate with respect to the Second Amendment. According to Robert Levy, who financed the lawsuit: “Everybody understood — or at least any reasonable person understood — that we can’t have 11-year-olds with machine guns in front of the White House when the president is delivering a speech. Some weapons can be regulated, some people can be regulated, like minors and felons and mentally incompetent people, and some circumstances can be regulated. Battles over defining those circumstances will be going on for a long time.” Why can minors be regulated with regard to firearms for self-defense? The probable answer is because they are mature enough and their brains have not developed to the point where they can intelligently and rationally predict or comprehend the consequences of their actions. Why can felons and mentally incompetent people be regulated? Liberty is understood as the free exercise of one’s inalienable and essential rights, to the point that such exercise doesn’t burden or violate another person’s equal rights. Felons have already proven that they are incapable of conforming their conduct to be consistent with the rights of others and hence our society deems that a rightful punishment is to deny them access to firearms. They cannot be trusted. Incompetent individuals in many cases can’t control their actions, thoughts, re-actions. They also cannot responsibly conform their conduct so as not to harm or invade the liberties of others. They are often unpredictable.

(5) In the Court’s eyes, which part of the Second Amendment will control what types of “arms” are covered? Will the courts use the prefatory clause (the militia) or the operative clause (individual right)?

(6) Members of the US Congress clearly have not read the Second Amendment, the Preamble to the Bill of Rights, or the Heller and McDonald opinions. They continue to push for more and more gun control and policies to permit government confiscation of firearms (Red Flag Laws). Ever since Andrew Jackson and then Abraham Lincoln, US presidents have argued that the office can assume undelegated powers (ie, unconstitutional powers) as long as the country or the American people need it to be so. In other words, they implicitly view the Constitution as either a “living, breathing document” or they have treated it as a dead document, something that presidents can choose to guide them but certainly not to confine them. The US Congress has, over the same time, done the very same thing and the courts have very often put a rubber stamp on their power grabs. It appears that Congress and the states will continue to violate the Second Amendment by claiming that they need to keep people, schools, federal buildings, churches, etc safe. If their laws are unconstitutional (note that each state has their own Bill of Rights, including a Second Amendment version, in their constitutions), they will simply amend the laws or pass new ones which may also be unconstitutional, but in the meantime will burden gun access and ownership, and will restrict carry.

In July 2008, less than a month after the Heller opinion was handed down and just after he still was unable to get a permit for his revolver, Dick Heller filed a lawsuit against the District of Columbia. (Heller v. District of Columbia II, or “Heller II”) challenging the new regulations DC lawmakers quickly put in place to save their gun law.

The case has been far more time-consuming than Heller expected. After parting ways with Gura and Levy, Heller enlisted Stephen Halbrook as his lawyer, the Second Amendment attorney that the NRA hired to try to block the initial Heller lawsuit. Again, after 7 years of litigation (punctuated by repeated changes by DC council’s to its gun regulations), Halbrook managed to win a ruling by a DC Circuit of Appeals panel in September 2015 invalidating 4 of the 10 restrictions Heller challenged. In 2016, the full DC Appeals Court agreed with the ruling. Halbrook and Heller have not signaled if they will seek Supreme Court review. [Mark Obbie, “He Won the Supreme Court Case That Transformed Gun Rights. But Dick Heller Is a Hard Man to Please”]

The provisions Heller II successfully invalidated include a requirement to renew gun permits every three years, a limit of one handgun registration per month, and requirements for permit holders to pass a test on D.C. gun laws and show up at police headquarters with the gun to be registered. Left intact, however, were the District’s registration requirement for long guns, a required safety class and registration fees for permit holders, and other obstacles to the sort of frictionless, gun-friendly city Heller wants D.C. to be. In October 2015 in an interview published in the magazine America’s 1st Freedom, the NRA’s official magazine. He said: “We still have to be registered and fingerprinted, so the worst part is we will still be treated like criminals, but the criminals won’t be standing in line to get in.” [Ibid]

Heller, who is now 76 years old, has been frustrated that he had to waste 14 years of his life just to have the rights Americans won and secured a long time ago vindicated in an American court. He assumed that officials who take an oath of office would be on the same side of the American people.

Later in 2008, after the Supreme Court handed down the Heller ruling, Dick Heller created the Heller Foundation. He then paired with the U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation in order to promote “a world where arms and self-defense rights are considered as essential to human life as food and water.” In such a capacity, on November 2, he signed on to an amicus brief filed by Larry Pratt and the organization he founded, Gun Owners of America, in a lawsuit that challenged the federal machine gun ban (passed as part of the 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act). [Hollis v. Lynch]. Gun Owners of America argued that that possession of machine guns by Americans is compatible with the Second Amendment and that the amendment is not about not about hunting or target shooting, but about self-defense against individuals and/or the state. The amicus brief characterized machine guns as “the lineal descendants of founding-era firearms” fulfilling the ultimate purpose of the Second Amendment, “to allow the people to take up effective arms against a tyrant.” On June 30, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued its unanimous opinion upholding the federal machine-gun ban.

What can we expect in the post-Heller and post-McDonald era with respect to gun rights? I think Robert Levy said it best: “Some weapons can be regulated, some people can be regulated, and some circumstances can be regulated. Battles over defining those circumstances will be going on for a long time.”

 

- 000000000000000000000000000000

REFERENCES:

Adam Winkler, “Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.” 2011, W.W. Norton & Company, NYC.

Don B. Kates Jr, “Why a Civil Libertarian Opposes Gun Control,” Civil Liberties Review 3 (June/July and Aug./Sept. 1976).

Don B. Kates, Jr. “Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment,” 82 Michigan Law Review (MICH. L. REV.) 204-273 (1983).   Referenced: http://www.constitution.org/2ll/2ndschol/57mich.pdf

Robert A. Sprecher, “The Lost Amendment,” American Bar Association Journal 51 (1965).

William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (1769).

Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833).

Malcolm, To Keep and Bear Arms (1994); pp. 31–53.

Dumbauld, The Bill of Rights and What It Means Today (1957); pg. 51.

William Rawle, A View of the Constitution of the United States of America (1825); pg. 122.

Supreme Court Opinion: District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008)https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/07pdf/07-290.pdf

Complaint: Parker v. District of Columbia (2003), in the District Court for the District of Columbia – https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/gunsuit.pdf

Mark Obbie, “He Won the Supreme Court Case That Transformed Gun Rights. But Dick Heller Is a Hard Man to Please,” The Trace, March 20, 2016. Referenced at: https://www.thetrace.org/2016/03/dick-heller-second-amendment-hero-abolish-gun-regulation/

Diane Rufino, “The History of the Second Amendment Teaches Us its Meaning and Intent (Liberal Judges and Professors Do Not),” January 14, 2019.

Diane Rufino, “Making Sense of the Meaning and Intent of the Second Amendment: It’s Not Difficult Folks!,” May 23, 2017. Referenced at: https://forloveofgodandcountry.com/2017/05/25/making-sense-of-the-meaning-and-intent-of-the-second-amendment-its-not-hard-folks/

“Post Heller Jurisprudence,” Congressional Research Service, Updated March 25, 2019. Reference:   https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R44618.pdf

DVD: “In Search of the Second Amendment (A Documentary),” produced and directed by David T. Hardy (2006). Second Amendment Films LLC

United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939)

District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008)

McDonald v. Chicago, 561 US 742 (2010)

“North Carolina’s Ratification,” US Constitution – https://www.usconstitution.net/rat_nc.html

Resolutions of the Provincial Congress of Virginia (Patrick Henry) regarding the militia, March 23, 1775 – http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/res_cong_va_1775.asp

George Mason, the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Referenced at: http://www.history.org/almanack/life/politics/varights.cfm

Virginia’s Ratification of the Constitution, Elliott’s Debates (June 25, 1788) – http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/elliot/vol3/june25/

The proposed amendments to the Bill of Rights submitted by the State of Virginia (June 27, 1788) – http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/elliot/vol3/june27/

 

APPENDIX:

THE ROOTS OF THE SECOND AMENDMENT (taken from Adam Winkler, “Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.” 2011, W.W. Norton & Company, NYC; pp. 99-105, and Diane Rufino, “The History of the Second Amendment Teaches Us its Meaning and Intent (Liberal Judges and Professors Do Not),” January 14, 2019].

The roots of the Second Amendment go back to the days of feudal/medieval England, to the Militia laws. Men in England, and sometimes even teen boys were required by law to have firearms and to be trained in their use should the King need to call up a militia. Henry VIII, who reigned from 1509 – 1547, lowered the age of the males required to be trained to use guns. Under his rule, fathers were required to train their sons from age 7 and older in the use of firearms. “Bring them up in shooting!” The King had no standing army and therefore the Militia Laws were very important. Citizens could be called up at any time by the King to form the militia and so they had to always be in a state of readiness. In other words, citizens had a DUTY to keep and bear arms.

One hundred fifty (150) years later, in 1689, with the English Bill of Rights, this medieval “duty” to keep and bear arms became an “indubitable right.” (aka, an unquestioned right, a non-disputed right, a fundamental right, an inherent right). And the English Bill of Rights was a direct precursor or template to our US Bill of Rights.

How did this all happen?

Gun ownership transformed into a “right” during the tumultuous 17th century in England, and for understandable reasons. The transformation arose out of a conflict between King Charles I and Parliament. [Remember, Parliament is the so-called “people’s house; this is one of the rights the people wanted King John to recognize in the Magna Carta. If they were to be taxed, they wanted to have representation in those decisions]. Parliament refused to tax the people to provide the funding for the wars that Charles wanted to fight and so Charles disbanded the Parliament. He did so several times. He went on to tax the people himself, obviously violating their right to representation. Eventually, in 1642, civil war broke out and certain members of Parliament (called a “rump” Parliament), led by Oliver Cromwell, brought charges against Charles for high treason. He was captured, tried, and beheaded in 1649. His sons, the future King Charles II and King James II had fled to France at the time. At this point the monarchy was abolished and a republic established (the commonwealth of England).

After Cromwell died and his son took over, rather than stability in England, there was mass chaos. The people, out of sheer desperation, asked Charles II to come back to England, assert his right to the throne, and rule, which he did. The monarchy was restored. But what did Charles come home to? He returned to a country that turned on his father; a country that beheaded him. He also returned to a country that was very well-armed. Almost immediately, he sought to disarm the subjects and control the bearing of arms. He instituted serious gun control measures, both on individuals and on manufacturers. Gun manufacturers had to report to the King how many guns they manufactured each week and who purchased them. There were controls on the importing of guns, licenses were required for subjects who needed to move weapons around the countryside, and subjects had to report if they were traveling with a firearm. In the year 1660, King Charles II issued a series of orders to disarm those citizens that he deemed were – or would be – political opponents. One particular act that Parliament passed, in 1662, was especially repugnant. It was the Militia Act of 1662 and it gave militia officers the power to disarm anyone they believed was likely to be an opponent of the Crown. And at first, the Act was actively enforced. In 1671, Parliament passed the Game Act, which proved to be the greatest control over ownership of firearms that England ever had. The Game Act listed a whole host of weapons that were prohibited for hunting, and at the head of that list was guns !

Charles II died and having produced no heirs, he was succeeded by his brother James II. James II was a Roman Catholic, which concerned a lot of people, most of whom were Protestant (they believed Catholics were agents of the Pope, who they suspected of still trying to regain influence over the English kingdom.). But that was tolerated because he had no sons and his two grown daughters (Mary and Anne) were both Protestants; there seemed no threat that he would re-establish Catholicism in England. [Diane Rufino, “The History of the Second Amendment Teaches Us its Meaning and Intent (Liberal Judges and Professors Do Not),” January 14, 2019].

Within months of King James II’s ascension, two rebellions were launched to attempt to topple him from the throne. James was able to suppress them easily, but the experience led him to conclude that he needed a sizeable standing army to protect him from future rebellions. He also thought that he would be better served by an army that included some friendly Catholics. Even though it was against the law, he appointed Catholics to positions of authority within the military. The Archbishop of Canterbury, one of the most important figures in England, petitioned James to reconsider some of his policies but James responded by imprisoning him in the Tower of London. When members of Parliament objected to his conduct, James turned around and suspended Parliament for the rest of his reign. He was within his recognized authority as King to do so, but the controversial move inspired his opponents to plot to have his reign end prematurely. [Adam Winkler, “Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” pg. 100]

To lower the risk of a rebellion, James decided to take advantage of certain laws that were passed before his reign, particularly the Militia Act of 1664 and the Game Act of 1671, to confiscate as many firearms from potential political opponents as he could. The Militia Act of 1664 authorized the King’s deputies to seize the weapons of anyone deemed to be “dangerous to the Peace of the Kingdom.” To James, that meant all Protestants, who comprised 98% of the English population. He ordered gunsmiths to deliver up lists of all gun purchasers and the guns purchased. He used the Game Act of 1671, which, in the name of protecting wild animals from over-hunting, barred gun possession by anyone “not having Lands and Tenements of clear yearly value of one hundred pounds,” to disarm commoners. In other words, gun ownership would be limited to a certain class of subjects. [Ibid, pp. 101] According to the historical record, the orders were apparently not carried out. But the actions of the King to disarm his subjects certainly arose concern and fear among the people of England.

In 1688, James’ wife gave birth to a son, alarming Protestants. Since a son would be heir to the throne, the threat of a Catholic dynasty was all of a sudden a very real possibility. James’ 26-year-old daughter Mary was among those who suspected that the newborn was not even James’ child. Her husband, William of Orange, who was Dutch, shared her suspicions. Personally, he had aspirations of sitting on the English throne. It was finally in 1688 that the English people had had enough. A group of eminent English noblemen who were determined that James needed to be removed from power invited William and Mary to England and suggested that they form an army to help them should they need it. With Dutch soldiers, William launched an attack, and James, who lacked any solid support from either the people of England or even his own army (or from Parliament) was forced to abandon the throne. With barely a fight, James fled to France, abdicating his throne in favor of his daughter and her husband – William and Mary. In early 1689, the Parliament anointed William and Mary as joint sovereigns. They would rule as King and Queen together… but there would be conditions. [Ibid, pp. 101]

To scholars of English history, the toppling of King James II became known as the Glorious Revolution (or Bloodless Revolution). What made the revolution so glorious was not just that James was forced to flee and that Protestants returned to power without much bloodshed, but that the English people finally had a chance to secure their rights and liberties in a more permanent document. As a condition to being offered the throne, William and Mary had to agree to abide by the laws of Parliament and exercise only limited, rather than absolute, power. They also had to promise to respect the individual rights of Englishman – rights that were initially petitioned for in the Magna Carta of 1215, re-presented in further petitions, and codified, finally, on December 16, 1869, in what was called the English Bill of Rights. [Ibid, pp. 102]

The English Bill of Rights proclaimed that James had violated “the Laws and Liberties of this Kingdom.” By imprisoning people like the Archbishop for merely complaining about the king’s edicts, James had trampled on the right of Englishmen to petition the government for redress of their grievances. By arresting people for no lawful reason, he had violated the rights of Englishmen to due process of law. “By causing several good Subjects, being Protestants, to be disarmed,” he had ignored “true, ancient, and indubitable rights.” The English Bill of Rights reaffirmed the importance of these rights, including a provision on personal weapons. “Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defense suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law.” [Ibid, pp. 102]

In the years after the Glorious Revolution, the right of English Protestants to have guns was recognized as an individual right – a right related to self-defense self-protection, and not a right related to the duty to serve in militias. Indeed, by 1688, and enshrined in the Bill of Rights of 1689, the duty to be armed became a right. One of the rights of Englishmen became the right to have arms for self-defense and to resist a tyrannical king (or government). [Diane Rufino, “The History of the Second Amendment Teaches Us its Meaning and Intent (Liberal Judges and Professors Do Not)”]

William Blackstone, the 18th century jurist whose Commentaries on the Laws of England are still cited today as the authoritative account of old English law, described the English Bill of Rights as recognizing “the right of having and using guns for self-preservation and defense.” The right to have arms, he wrote, was “an auxiliary right necessary to preserve the basic rights of man: personal security, personal liberty, and private property.” English court cases from the 1700’s were in agreement. Judges, like those in the 1744 case of Malloch v. Eastly, repeatedly recognized that it was “settled and determined” law that “a man may keep a gun for the defense of his house and family.” [Adam Winkler, “Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” pg. 102]

Between 1603 and 1776, the rights of Englishmen became the rights of Americans. In 1661, with the constant threat of hostile Indians and hostile French and Dutch settlers, the colony of Virginia required all able-bodied men to have firearms and be trained monthly in their use. Each county had chief militia officer.

As relations with Great Britain began to deteriorate, especially after the Boston Tea Party and the punishing response by the King and Parliament with the Intolerable Acts [which shut down Boston Harbor, abolished the Massachusetts colonial government, installed a British General (General Gage) and his redcoats in its place, and established the Quartering Act], the colonists began to collect firearms and stockpile gunpowder and artillery. And not just in Massachusetts. Word was spreading among the colonies of the growing tyranny by the King.

It appeared the British Crown once again was planning to disarm political opponents.

One of the measures planned was the confiscation of colonial guns by order of the King. In 1774, King George III ordered that all exports of firearms and ammunition to the colonies cease. And the next year, he ordered British Commanders to disarm certain provinces, especially in the North. Boston, for example, was put under military occupation and General Gage was tasked to disarm the most unruly colony of all – Massachusetts.

By 1774, being made commander-in-chief of all British forces in the New World, Gage was the most powerful man in the America. When he learned from one of his many “spies” that spring that the colonists (which he termed “rebels”) were secretly stockpiling guns and ammunition in an arsenal located in nearby Concord, Gage ordered 700 troops, on April 19, 1775, to seize the arsenal (seize the weapons and destroy the ammunition). The night before, Paul Revere set on his famous midnight ride to warn the people that the British were coming to take their guns. He didn’t cry out “The British are coming, the British are coming,” as legend has it; rather, he had to whisper the message to trusted friends only for the outskirts of Boston were filled with loyalists. (Luckily there were other riders because Revere ended up being captured by the Redcoats. He was released but they kept his horse). On their way to Concord, the troops passed through Lexington where they encountered a small group of colonial militiamen. The Redcoats and the colonial militiamen stood face-to-face on Lexington Green on the morning of the 19th. A shot went off (no one knows how it happened), but the response was immediate. Shots rang out and an armed conflict between England and Massachusetts had begun. The revolution had begun.

It appeared that complete disarmament of the colonies would be inevitable.

Virginians began to stockpile their ammunition in Williamsburg, in anticipation that British troops would come to subjugate them as well. A general alarm was spreading among the colonies – fueled by men like Samuel Adams and John Hancock, Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine – that the British were removing gunpowder from the public stock in order to render the colonists unable to resist the Crown… just as King Charles II and King James II had done to their subjects approximately 100 years ago in England. It was this general alarm that prompted Patrick Henry to introduce resolutions at a secret meeting of the colonial legislature to raise up the militia in every county and train them as quickly as possible. He believed so strongly that this was necessary that he gave that impassioned speech we all associate with him – “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Patrick Henry was right, war was coming. And he was also right about the intent of the British to disarm the colonies. Just weeks after his famous speech at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia’s royal governor ordered British sailors to raid the armory at Williamsburg and to take the gunpowder back aboard their ships, which they did.

Thus, the American revolution started over our RIGHT to keep and bear arms. Tensions with Great Britain may have started over the right not to be taxed without representation in Parliament (the body from which such taxing measures arose), but the actual revolution itself erupted over the actions of the Crown to disarm the people.

So, the colonies won their independence, and the next step was to form a common government and our Bill of Rights. How did we get the language of our Second Amendment and what does it mean? First of all, our Founding Fathers borrowed liberally from the English Bill of Rights, including the right to Petition Government in the First Amendment, the right of Due Process in the Fifth Amendment, and the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in the Second Amendment. These were rights that they enjoyed and held dear as Englishmen and believed traveled with them to the New World.

Looking at the Constitutions and Bills of Right of our original 13 states, there were at least three colonial models to address the right to arms:

The Virginia Declaration of Rights read: “That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state….”

The Pennsylvania Declaration of Rights read: “The people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the state.”

The Massachusetts Bill of Rights read: “The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defense.”

We can see the two views of our Second Amendment embodied in these colonial Bills of Rights.

Fast-forward to the US Constitution and the ratification process whereby the states were debating whether to adopt it. New York ratified it, but only conditionally – conditioned on the addition of a Bill of Rights. Virginia narrowly ratified it, but those against its adoption, most notably Patrick Henry, held all the power in state government. They were going to call for another Constitutional Convention to alter Madison’s Constitution, and they were going to appoint all anti-Federalists to the US Senate and draw up Congressional district maps to ensure all anti-Federalists were elected to the first US House. Madison, who wanted to be seated in that first government, would be shut out. The state legislature, with Henry wielding great power, had already denied him an appointment to the Senate (this was before the 17th amendment) Eventually, Madison made a compromise. If he were elected to the first US House, he promised to introduce a Bill of Rights for the States.

In fact, his state of Virginia had proposed a Bill of Rights for the new constitution, including a precursor to our Second Amendment, which included language from all three colonial models – Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

On June 8, 1789, in the first US House, James Madison made true on his promise and he introduced a set of amendments to add a Bill of Rights to our Constitution. His Second Amendment read: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well-armed and well-regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.”

The first Congress shortened Madison’s proposal so that it read: “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.”

The important thing to note in this historical review is that the Second Amendment is actually two separate thoughts. It was the conscious and intentional design of our Founders to express the right to arms in the broadest terms possible, to be understood in its broadest sense.  [Diane Rufino, “The History of the Second Amendment Teaches Us its Meaning and Intent (Liberal Judges and Professors Do Not)”].

References:

Diane Rufino, “The History of the Second Amendment Teaches Us its Meaning and Intent (Liberal Judges and Professors Do Not),” January 14, 2019.

DVD: “In Search of the Second Amendment (A Documentary),” produced and directed by David T. Hardy (2006). Second Amendment Films LLC

Diane Rufino, “Making Sense of the Meaning and Intent of the Second Amendment: It’s Not Difficult Folks!,” May 23, 2017. Referenced at: https://forloveofgodandcountry.com/2017/05/25/making-sense-of-the-meaning-and-intent-of-the-second-amendment-its-not-hard-folks/

Adam Winkler, “Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.” 2011, W.W. Norton & Company, NYC.

Advertisements

The Constitutionality of Gun Control Laws

Second Amendment - Poster (vulture)    by Diane Rufino

On January 16, 2013, President Obama signed 23 Executive Orders which he claimed are aimed at reducing gun violence.  Now begins the initiative to bring his comprehensive gun control scheme to Congress. The cornerstone of the scheme will include more inclusive and scrutinous background checks and a ban on assault weapons.  The National Rifle Association, however, doesn’t buy the story that the administration is selling. In fact, it believes there is a more ominous plan down the road.  The NRA is using a Justice Department memo it obtained, dated January 4, 2013 and written by one of the Justice Department’s top crime researchers, to argue that the Obama administration itself doesn’t believe that its proposed gun control plans will work to cut down on violence. Rather, it believes it will ultimately need to seize firearms and require national gun registration.  These, of course are ideas that the White House has not proposed and claims it does not support.

At this point, President Obama wants to ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines that exceed 10 rounds.  He and his fellow gun law proponents argue that no one should need more than that.  And the President is pushing for universal background checks for nearly all gun purchases. Today, checks are only mandatory on sales by federally licensed gun dealers, not transactions at gun shows or other private sales.

The Memo critiques the effectiveness of gun control proposals, including many that were put forward by the executive orders and now by proposed legislation, such as the registration and the assault weapon and ammunition magazine bans.

The memo says straw purchases and gun thefts are the largest sources of firearms used in crimes, and says such transactions “would most likely become larger if background checks at gun shows and private sellers were addressed.”  (Straw purchases are when criminals and those who are legally prohibited from owning a firearm have another person make the purchase for them). The memo says requiring background checks for more gun purchases could help, but also could lead to more illicit weapons sales. Criminals are not going to submit to background checks honestly.  They will continue to use false names and offer false information.

At the same time, President Obama is looking to stack the federal courts with anti-gun judicial nominations. For example, he is presently pushing Caitlin Halligan, currently the NY’s Solicitor General and an attorney with a long track record in favor of gun control, for the DC Court of Appeals. In fact, one Senate Republican said that she is the most “anti-Second Amendment nominee Obama has ever put forward.”  The final transformation of America will eventually occur at the hands of federal court judges who haven’t studied the writings of the Founding Fathers and who don’t understand the scheme of ordered liberty they envisioned for this country.

On January 18, Beaufort County, NC was the first local entity in the nation to take a stand against the President’s agenda to regulate gun rights and to stand up for the phrase in the Second Amendment which reads “The right of the people to have and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners passed the strongest Second Amendment Protection Resolution to date in North Carolina. Other counties in the state have followed suit, including Pitt, Franklin, Lenoir, and Cherokee – with varying degrees of strength and effectiveness). And still there are other counties who would like to adopt resolutions but have reservations as to what they can do legally.

The bottom line is that state and local elected representatives, as well as state and local civil servants, swear an oath to the US Constitution. They pledge a solemn vow, invoking the name of our Creator, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.  The oath is not to support a “living constitution”; nor is it a promise to support any and all actions of the federal government, which is organized under the Constitution. The oath is to obey and support only lawful orders. After all, a legal framework with defined limitations is what is at the heart of our constitutional republic. In America, government is tasked with constraining people in unlawful conduct, but it is also obliged to constrain itself as well.  The framework was designed for a specific purpose, and that purpose is articulated most splendidly in the Declaration of Independence – for the free exercise of our God-given rights and liberties.

In helping those counties, those local Sheriffs, and those state officials assess the legality of taking a position seemingly antagonistic to the federal government, there are a series of questions to ask and answer.

Is the Particular Federal Law Supreme? –

The issue at stake is which federal laws are to be considered “Supreme,” and thus trump state law where there is any conflict and preclude any state from interfering with or frustrating the federal scheme. The Supremacy Clause (Article VI, clause 2) reads: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

The general rule – the correct rule – is that constitutional federal law trumps state law where it conflicts. The state law must therefore yield to the federal law.  This was the government’s argument when it challenged Arizona’s immigration bill, SB 1070.  In that case, the Supreme Court found that the government is indeed supreme on immigration, but nonetheless upheld parts of the Arizona bill because it concluded that they furthered and assisted the federal scheme.

The problem is the incorrect assumptions  too many government officials make – at both the federal and state level.  These assumptions are as follows: (1)  That every federal law is supreme law of the land under the Supremacy Clause; and  (2) That every federal law is constitutional.

Blind allegiance to the perceived supremacy of the federal government is disloyalty to the Constitution and to the United States.  In fact, it is a crime. Chief Justice John Marshall explained this in the landmark case Marbury v. Madison (1803):

With respect to the Constitution’s requirement, in Article VI, that federal officials, including judges, take an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”)  “Why does it direct the judges to take an oath to support it?

The particular phraseology of the Constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void; and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument. It is also not entirely unworthy of observation that, in declaring what shall be the supreme law of the land, the Constitution itself is first mentioned; and not the laws of the United States generally, but those only which shall he made in pursuance of the Constitution, have that rank.

Why does a judge swear to discharge his duties agreeably to the Constitution of the United States, if that Constitution forms no rule for his government? If it is closed upon him, and cannot be inspected by him?  If such be the real state of things, this is worse than solemn mockery. To prescribe, or take this oath, becomes equally a crime.”

Chief Justice Marshall used the example of a federal judge, but mockery and disloyalty apply to all those officials who accept and pledge the responsibility that the oath demands.

Is it Constitutional? –

In looking at federal law, the first question you should ask is whether it is constitutional.  Because under the Supremacy Clause, only laws made in pursuance to the Constitution are supreme.  If they are not, they are not only unconstitutional but they are also not supreme law.

As we all know, individuals are free to do whatever they want, unless they are constrained by the law.  Government, on the other hand, can only act pursuant to the powers they are expressly delegated in the Constitution.  Government needs express authority to act, and when it acts pursuant to powers not delegated or oversteps powers that are intended to be limited, then those acts have no legitimacy and are not enforceable upon the people. That is the contract that the people have with the federal government, under the US Constitution.  Same goes for the states and the state constitutions.

So, the first question to ask is whether the particular federal law has a proper constitutional foundation.  All of our Founding Fathers agreed that any act that violates the Constitution is null and void and not a valid, enforceable law.  Our entire Constitution consists of limitations and a series of checks and balances. Our Founders talked at length about the checks and balances in the Constitutional Convention. They talked about the separation of powers and the jealous arrangement whereby each branch would jealously guard their own powers from the encroachment of any of the other branches. They would gladly do so to prevent one branch from becoming too powerful in the exercise of government and  too powerful over the other two branches.  Furthermore, our Founding Fathers build our government on a federal scheme. We are a federation of sovereign states and not a consolidation of people.  Our system is federal and not national.  In our federal scheme, as embodied by the Tenth Amendment, the precious balance of power and limitations imposed by the Constitution was intended to be kept in check by the tension presented by having two sovereigns – or Dual Sovereignty.  A “sovereign” possesses supreme power.  A sovereign state, for example, has the supreme power to legislate for its safety, security,  people, and best interests.  Under our system of Dual Sovereignty, the federal government is deemed to be sovereign (again, the Supremacy Clause) when it acts pursuant to its constitutionally limited and legitimate powers (17 or so in Article I, Clause 8, and about 21 total in the entire Constitution).  It is a limited sovereign.  The states, on the other hand, as articulated in the Tenth Amendment, retain and reserve the great bulk of remaining powers to legislate and regulate within their territories and are therefore sovereign with respect to those powers.  James Madison addresses the nature of the division of powers best in Federalist Papers No. 45:

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State. The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security.”

Even the design of the government itself was premised on the federalist scheme so that the States themselves would intimately provide a necessary check on the power of the federal government. At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, when James Madison initially proposed that the federal government be given a “negative” (ie, “veto” power over acts of the state legislatures that it deemed frustrated the goals of the government, the states successfully countered back with the exact opposite – a state “negative” over the federal government. In discussing the second branch of the legislature – the Senate – the delegates specifically talked about this branch providing an immediate “negative” (ie, a “veto” power) over the actions of government. The Senate was intended to be the physical presence of the States within the structure of the government, always able to protect their interests and protect their sovereign powers.  (Of course, this notion of a state “negative” is the basis of the doctrine of nullification). The states provided a federal balance in other aspects as well.

In Federalist No. 45, Madison explained:

“The State governments may be regarded as constituent and essential parts of the federal government; whilst the latter is nowise essential to the operation or organization of the former. Without the intervention of the State legislatures, the President of the United States cannot be elected at all. They must in all cases have a great share in his appointment, and will, perhaps, in most cases, of themselves determine it. The Senate will be elected absolutely and exclusively by the State legislatures. Even the House of Representatives, though drawn immediately from the people, will be chosen very much under the influence of that class of men, whose influence over the people obtains for themselves an election into the State legislatures. Thus, each of the principal branches of the federal government will owe its existence more or less to the favor of the State governments, and must consequently feel a dependence, which is much more likely to beget a disposition too obsequious than too overbearing towards them.”

In Federalist No. 78, Alexander Hamilton articulated the danger in overstepping the bounds of federal power and federal authority:

“There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.”

Recently, Tennessee’s Attorney General, Robert Cooper, wrote a legal opinion stating that Tennessee’s    proposed piece of legislation, SB0250 (“An Act to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 4,

Chapter 54, relative to the Tennessee Firearms Freedom Act”), is unconstitutional because it violates the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution.  SB0250 was written to expand and amend the Tennessee Firearms Freedom Act to address federal actions in the state. Specifically, the bill adds the following section to the Firearms Freedom Act:

(a) The general assembly declares that any federal action prohibited by this chapter relating to firearms, firearms accessories or ammunition, whether made in Tennessee or not, is not authorized by the United States constitution and violates the restrictions contained therein and is hereby declared to be invalid in this state; that said federal action shall not be recognized by this state; and that said federal action is rejected by this state and shall be null and void and of no effect in this state.

(b) Any federal action shall be deemed an intentional violation of state sovereignty and shall be unenforceable within the borders of Tennessee if the federal action does or attempts to:

(1) Infringe on, ban, regulate, or restrict state government, local government or civilian ownership, transfer, possession or manufacture of a firearm, a firearm accessory or ammunition in this state;

(2) Require any state government, local government or civilian owned firearm, firearm accessory, or ammunition in this state to be registered or tracked in any manner; or

(3) Impose federal taxes, fees or any other charges on any state government, local government or civilian owned firearm, firearm accessory, or ammunition that are payable to any government entity.

(c) No public official, employee, or agent of this state or any of its political subdivisions shall:

(1) Act to impose, collect, enforce, or effectuate any penalty in this state that violates the public policy set forth in this section; or

(2) Cooperate with or assist with the enforcement of federal action prohibited by this chapter.

Attorney General Cooper wants the legislature and the People of the Tennessee to believe that the following federal acts and constitutional and therefore supreme:  (i) a ban on firearms; (ii) tracking of ammunition; (iii) federal taxes on firearms and their accessories;….

Where exactly in the Constitution did the states delegate the power to regulate firearms?  It doesn’t. What the States did demand, on the other hand, was the Second Amendment, which states that: “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.”

Some argue that the federal government has some regulatory authority under the Commerce Clause, but that argument would be wrong.  Again, we have the Second Amendment (and in fact, the Bill of Rights in general).  The Preamble to the Bill of Rights states the intention of the States in adopting them:  “The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.”   As we all know, the States refused to ratify the US Constitution until a Bill of Rights, proposed by the States themselves, was added.  So we see that the Bill of Rights, and in this case the Second Amendment, puts further restrictions on the federal government. These “declaratory and  restrictive clauses” further restrain the government in the exercise of their delegated powers.  As an example, Congress was delegated the power to regulate interstate Commerce (“to make regular”).  After the Bill of Rights was added, the government was prohibited from using the Commerce power to infringe on the right of the people to have and bear arms.

The Second Amendment states specifically and succinctly – “the right of the people to have and bear arms shall not (must not) be infringed.”  There simply is no wiggle room.  The federal government, therefore, has no authority to regulate in this area and thus, the federal acts mentioned above are not constitutional.

Does the Federal Judiciary Have Exclusive Power to Make Determinations of Constitutionality? –

The second question to ask is which branch/tribunal/entity has the exclusive power to make the determination of constitutionality.  The Supreme Court, in Marbury v. Madison(1803) has delegated that power to itself.  It was not delegated to the federal courts in the US Constitution.  Nowhere in Article III is the Supreme Court given “exclusive” jurisdiction.  Alexander Hamilton wrote about the weight to be afforded the federal judiciary in Federalist No. 78:

“Whoever attentively considers the different departments of power must perceive, that, in a government in which they are separated from each other, the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them. The Executive not only dispenses the honors, but holds the sword of the community. The legislature not only commands the purse, but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society; and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments.

If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two (the legislative and the judicial branches), that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents. Nor does this conclusion by any means suppose a superiority of the judicial to the legislative power. It only supposes that the power of the people is superior to both; and that where the will of the legislature, declared in its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people, declared in the Constitution, the judges ought to be governed by the latter rather than the former. They ought to regulate their decisions by the fundamental laws, rather than by those which are not fundamental.”

Under the contractual nature of the Constitution (ie, the States negotiated the terms of the Constitution and were its signers, thus agreeing to be bound by its terms including the surrender of some of their sovereign power which is the necessary “detriment” or “consideration” which contract law uses to find a valid contract), the states are the legitimate parties and are therefore in the legal position to explain the terms under which they signed.  In other words, the States are in the proper position to define the extent of the powers that they delegated to the federal government.  The government itself is not a party to the contact and in fact, is its creation.  And as the plain words of the Constitution express and the Federalist Papers explain, the right to be the exclusive interpreter of the Constitution was not delegated to the Supreme Court (or the federal courts in general).

Mr. Robert Cooper, the Tennessee AG, mentions the possibility that the federal acts might be unconstitutional.  At the end of the brief he filed, Cooper wrote: “While the bills themselves declare that certain federal firearms regulations are unconstitutional, that determination  rests with the federal judiciary and not a state legislature.”  He rests his assertion on the Marbury v. Madison case, which was mentioned above.  But he misconstrued Chief Justice Marshall’s ruling.  Chief Justice Marshall merely asserted in that case that the Supreme Court CAN, in fact, nullify an act of Congress by declaring it unconstitutional. But nowhere does he assert that the Court has exclusive authority to rule on constitutionality.  The discussion of this topic is addressed below:

“The people have an original right to establish, for their future government, such principles as, in their opinion, shall most conduce to their own happiness is the basis on which the whole American fabric had been erected. The exercise of this original right is a very great exertion; nor can it, nor ought it, to be frequently repeated. The principles, therefore, so established, are deemed fundamental. And as the authority from which they proceed is supreme, and can seldom act, they are designed to be permanent. This original and supreme will organizes the government, and assigns to different departments their respective powers. It may either stop here, or establish certain limits not to be transcended by those departments. The government of the United States is of the latter description. The powers of the legislature are defined and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken, or forgotten, the Constitution is written. The distinction between a government with limited and unlimited powers is abolished if those limits do not confine the persons on whom they are imposed, and if acts prohibited and acts allowed are of equal obligation.

The Constitution is either a superior paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means, or it is on a level with ordinary legislative acts, and, like other acts, is alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it. If the former part of the alternative be true, then a legislative act contrary to the Constitution is not law: if the latter part be true, then written constitutions are absurd attempts on the part of the people to limit a power in its own nature illimitable. Certainly all those who have framed written constitutions contemplate them as forming the fundamental and paramount law of the nation, and consequently, the theory of every such government must be, that an act of the legislature, repugnant to the constitution, is void.

The particular phraseology of the Constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void; and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument.”

The Marbury v. Madison case sent up a red flag to Thomas Jefferson who was perhaps our most important and prolific Founding Father.  In reaction to Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in Marbury, Jefferson grew terribly suspicious of the Supreme Court and warned that judicial review would lead to despotism. He wrote:

“The germ of dissolution of our federal government is in the constitution of the federal judiciary: an irresponsible body, working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction until all shall be usurped from the States, and the government of all be consolidated into one. To this I am opposed; because, when all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the centre of all it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.”

Attorney General Cooper also cited Cooper v. Aaron, a Supreme Court case from 1958 which held that state government officials are bound to comply with Supreme Court rulings and court orders based upon the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution. This case addressed the remnants of the Jim Crow South and Arkansas’ refusal to enforce the desegregation mandate of Brown v. Board of Education (Cases I and II, 1953 and 1954, respectively).  Cooper referenced Cooper v. Aaron to assert the supremacy of the federal judiciary and to affirm that its rulings cannot be challenged by any state.

Again, Cooper v. Aaron rests on a fallacious or bastardized interpretation of Marbury. Such a notion obliterates the notion of a constitutional system and makes the Supreme Court the sovereign.  I shouldn’t even have to point out the absurdity of the Court making itself supreme.

Edwin Meese, Attorney General under President Ronald Reagan, said this about theCooper decision: “The logic of Cooper v. Aaron is at war with the Constitution, at war with the meaning of the rule of law.”  We need look no farther than the Dred Scott case (1857).  The Dred Scott decision not only denied even free blacks citizenship but went on to declare all those of African descent to be inferior and suitable only to serve others. To see the inherent flaw in this idea of judicial supremacy would be to accept that the Dred Scottdecision was the legitimate law of the land.  Abraham Lincoln would not accept it.  In response to the ruling, he said: “If the government, upon vital questions affecting the whole of the people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that imminent tribunal.”

If we accept the misguided notion that the Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the meaning and intent of the Constitution, then we have to accept that the decision in Dred Scott is the law of the land (which is still good Supreme Court jurisprudence by the way since it was only overturned legislatively, if you will, by constitutional amendment).  The justices in that case didn’t interpret the Constitution; rather, they used the bench for a most insidious function – to make social policy.  Dred Scott was a slave who traveled with his slave master from a slave state to a non-slave state.  He then challenged his bondage.  The question, therefore, before the Court was not only whether he should be considered free but whether he even had the legal right (as a black man) to challenge his slave status.  Justice Taney wrote the opinion:

“We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them.

It is true, every person, and every class and description of persons who were, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, recognized as citizens in the several States became also citizens of this new political body, but none other; it was formed by them, and for them and their posterity, but for no one else. And the personal rights and privileges guaranteed to citizens of this new sovereignty were intended to embrace those only who were then members of the several State communities, or who should afterwards by birthright or otherwise become members according to the provisions of the Constitution and the principles on which it was founded. It was the union of those who were at that time members of distinct and separate political communities into one political family, whose power, for certain specified purposes, was to extend over the whole territory of the United States. And it gave to each citizen rights and privileges outside of his State which he did not before possess, and placed him in every other State upon a perfect equality with its own citizens as to rights of person and rights of property; it made him a citizen of the United States.

It becomes necessary, therefore, to determine who were citizens of the several States when the Constitution was adopted. In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument.”

When the Supreme Court itself acts outside and above the bounds of constitutional power, which party can declare such?

That was a problem that Thomas Jefferson’s addressed  in 1804: “The Constitution meant that its coordinate branches should be checks on each other. But the opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch.”

The fact is that the men who drafted our founding documents – James Madison and Thomas Jefferson – did not subscribe to the notion that only the federal courts could determine constitutionality.  Jefferson wrote this: “The several States composing the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their General Government;….  that the government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers.”  [Resolutions of 1798].

James Madison wrote: “The states, then, being the parties to the constitutional compact, and in their sovereign capacity, it follows of necessity that there can be no tribunal, above their authority, to decide, in the last resort, whether the compact made by them be violated; and consequently, that, as the parties to it, they must themselves decide, in the last resort, such questions as may be of sufficient magnitude to require their interposition.”  [Report of 1800]

The Impact of the American Revolution on the Drafting and Intent of the Second Amendment –

A third inquiry might be a look at the (historical) events that shaped and guided the Founders and the drafters of the Second Amendment.

As we all remember from our early American history, the Boston Tea Party prompted a very strong response from the King of England.  It would be the series of intolerable acts known as the Coercive Acts which would offend so greatly the colonists notion of freedom that independence became the only solution.

All of the particular provisions of the Coercive Acts were offensive to Americans, but it was the Quartering Act and the possibility that the British might deploy the army to enforce them that primed many colonists for armed resistance. The Patriots of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, resolved: “That in the event of Great Britain attempting to force unjust laws upon us by the strength of arms, our cause we leave to heaven and our rifles.”

The Royal Governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage, had forbidden town meetings from taking place more than once a year. When he dispatched the Redcoats to break up an illegal town meeting in Salem, 3000 armed Americans appeared in response, and the British retreated. Gage’s aide John Andrews explained that everyone in the area aged 16 years or older owned a gun and plenty of gunpowder.  They could not tolerate this.

Military rule would be difficult to impose on an armed populace. Gage had only 2,000 troops in Boston. There were thousands of armed men in Boston alone, and more in the surrounding area. Gage’s response to the problem was to deprive the Americans of gunpowder.

Although colonial laws generally required militiamen (and sometimes all householders, too) to have their own firearm and a minimum quantity of powder, not everyone could afford it. Consequently, the government sometimes supplied “public arms” and powder to individual militiamen. Policies varied on whether militiamen who had been given public arms would keep them at home. Public arms would often be stored in a special armory, which might also be the powder house.

Before dawn on September 1, 1774, 260 of Gage’s Redcoats sailed up the Mystic River and seized hundreds of barrels of powder from the Charlestown powder house.  The “Powder Alarm,” as it became known, was a serious provocation. By the end of the day, 20,000 militiamen had mobilized and started marching towards Boston.  In Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, rumors quickly spread that the Powder Alarm had actually involved fighting in the streets of Boston, but accurate reports were provided just in time and war was temporarily averted.  The message, however, was unmistakable: If the British used violence to seize arms or powder, the Americans would treat that violent seizure as an act of war, and would fight.

Tension continued to grow as the British continued to seize firearms and gunpowder and block the importation of arms and ammunition to America in an effort to disarm the rebellious colonists.

On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry would give his famous fiery speech to the Virginia legislature, which had to meet in secret at St. John’s Church in Richmond because the British were clamping down on their rights to govern themselves. In that speech, he delivered those famous words: “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!”  What was the reason for those words?  Well, at the time, King George had declared all 13 North American colonies to be in a state of open rebellion. Lord Dunsmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, had ordered all the gunpowder in Williamsburg seized and stored aboard his ship anchored in the Virginia harbor, to keep it out of the hands local patriot forces. In his speech, Henry argued that the British plainly meant to subjugate America by force. Because every attempt by the Americans at peaceful reconciliation had been rebuffed, the only remaining alternatives for the Americans were to accept slavery or to take up arms. And so he urged that Virginia organize a militia to stand up to the British.

In just 3 weeks, the American Revolution would begin.

On the night of April 18, the royal governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage was ordered by King George III to suppress the rebellious Americans, had ordered 700 British soldiers to confiscate weapons stored in the village of Concord and capture Sons of Liberty leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were both reported to be staying in the village of Lexington.

As word of General Gage’s intentions spread through Boston, it prompted the patriots to set up a messaging system to alert the countryside of any advance of British troops. Paul Revere arranged for a signal to be sent by lantern from the steeple of North Church – one if by land, two if by sea.  On the night of April 18, 1775 the lantern’s alarm sent Revere, William Dawes and other riders on the road to spread the news. The messengers cried out the alarm, awakening every house, warning of the British column making its way towards Lexington. In the rider’s wake there erupted the peeling of church bells, the beating of drums and the roar of gun shots – all announcing the danger and calling the local militias to action. In the predawn light of April 19, the beating drums and peeling bells summoned between 50 and 70 militiamen to the town green at Lexington. As they lined up in battle formation, they heard the sound of the approaching Redcoats. Soon the British column emerged through the morning fog.  At Lexington Green, one eyewitness report claims that British Major Pitcairn ordered the Bostonians to “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, or you are all dead men.”  At that moment a shot was fired. It may very well have been accidental. Nonetheless, hearing the shot, British troops fired upon the small group of militia, killing eight men and wounding ten more. The militia then retreated into the woods.  And so started the first battle in the American Revolutionary War.

What transpired after the day of “the shot heard ’round the world” was perhaps more significant in some respects. That event was Gen. Gage’s attempt to confiscate the arms of all the inhabitants of Boston. Disarming the militiamen in the countryside had a plausible purpose—the Crown was the “legitimate” government and the militiamen were engaged in rebellion. But to disarm every peaceable inhabitant of Boston without them having committed any unlawful act or threatening any transgression was conclusive evidence to the colonists, including many not yet committed to fight for either side, that their fundamental rights as Englishmen were being destroyed.

What happened in the days leading up to skirmish on Lexington Green, when the British sought to disarm the colonists, and what happened in the days following Lexington and Concord, with the wholesale confiscation of firearms from the people of Boston, remained fresh in the minds of our Founders and framers.  It would have a profound impact on them and play a major role in the construction and adoption of the Second Amendment.

The Meaning of the Second Amendment –

And a fourth question to ask is what was the meaning of the Second Amendment when it was passed (because each of our first ten amendments holds a special place in America’s understanding of ordered liberty as the nation was congealed in 1788-89). The following are crucial points to be considered:

(a)  The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads as follows, “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.” The amendment, as written, is very clear.  First the right to keep and bear arms is not subject to any qualification, conditions, or degrees. Secondly, the right shall (ie, “must”) not be infringed. What is it about the phrase “shall not be infringed” that the government and critics fail to understand?  Since the amendment is a prohibition on government, it is a restraining order on government.  Henry St. George Tucker, a lawyer who put his career on hold to fight the American Revolution, set out in 1790 to write an American edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Law of England.  In 1803 he completed and published it.  Commonly referred to as “American Blackstone,” it was the definitive treatise on American law and became essential reading for every lawyer of the day.  In explaining the American right to keep and bear arms, Tucker wrote these words:  “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed and this without any qualification as to their condition or degree, as is the case in the British government.”  In the appendix to his text, Tucker provided a fuller explanation of the Second Amendment:  “This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty…. The right of self defense is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms, is under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction….”

(b)  The Preamble to the Bill of Rights, as with any preamble, states the intent and purpose of the particular amendments. The Preamble reads:

The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.

         RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution..

On December 15, 1791, Virginia became the 10th of 14 states to ratify, thus giving the Bill of Rights the two-thirds majority of state ratification necessary to make it legal.

(c)  The Second Amendment doesn’t grant rights; it recognizes rights. The Second Amendment, which embodies the most fundamental right of self-defense, self-protection, and self-preservation, was considered by our Framers as obvious, “natural,” and a “self-evident truth.”  The Declaration of Independence articulates clearly that while individuals have the inalienable right of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, they also have the natural right to defend them. In fact, it is precisely the primary role of government. The Declaration states: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety…”     According to the Declaration, the rights of self-defense, self-protection, and self-preservation are as fundamentally and inherently endowed as the rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The framers, tasked with defining the foundation of our new nation, were immersed in the prevailing republican thought of the day, as articulated in the writings of Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, and others, which discussed “natural rights” in some detail.  Others, known as the anti-Federalists, argued that at least some of the rights needed to be made explicit in the Bill of Rights to avoid having future generations with less understanding of republican theory weaken in their defense of those rights. The right to keep and bear arms is a natural right of individuals under the theory of democratic government. This was clearly the understanding and intent of the Framers of the U.S. Constitution and was a long-established principle of English common law at the time the Constitution was adopted, which is considered to be a part of constitutional law for purposes of interpreting the written Constitution.  Alexander Hamilton summed the position well in Federalist Papers No. 28: “If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no recourse left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual State. In a single State, if the persons entrusted with supreme power become usurpers, the different parcels, subdivisions, or districts of which it consists, having no distinct government in each, can take no regular measures for defense. The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms, without concert, without system, without resource; except in their courage and despair.”  [http://constitution.org/leglrkba.htm%5D

 (d)  The Second Amendment also recognizes the right, power, and duty of the people to organize into militias and defend their state.  Indeed, at the time the Second Amendment was adopted, it was understood that the people were the militia. George Mason said it best during the debates in the Virginia Ratification Convention on June 16, 1788: “I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people..” [See Elliot’s Debates, Vol. 3]  In Federalist Papers No. 29, Alexander Hamilton indicated that a well-regulated militia is the people in a state of preparedness. Tench Coxe, in his article “Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution,” (written under the “A Pennsylvanian”) in the Philadelphia Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789, explained: “Whereas civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as military forces, which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article [the Second Amendment] in their right to keep and bear their private arms.”

And what was the purpose of a state militia?  Our Founding Fathers understood an armed citizenry was necessary for more than just protecting the state’s security and interests. US Rep. Elbridge Gerry (Mass) spoke on this topic when debating the Second Amendment from the floor of the Congress after James Madison proposed the draft of the Bill of Rights: “What, Sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty …. Whenever Governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins.”  [See Annals of Congress at 750; August 17, 1789]  George Mason repeated the same admonition in the Virginia Ratification Convention (June 1788): ” … to disarm the people – that was the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”

And Noah Webster effectively articulated the principles underlying our Constitution and Bill of Rights in his publication An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (Philadelphia 1787).  He wrote: “Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe.  The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.” But perhaps no one is more qualified to explain the intent of the Second Amendment than Thomas Jefferson who was the man responsible for finally convincing James Madison to draft them. Jefferson wrote: “No Free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” In 1787, he wrote: “What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.” [Letter to William Stephens Smith; See Jefferson’s Papers 12:356]  Even Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story understood the purpose of an armed citizenry (and hence the intent of the Second Amendment): “The militia is the natural defense of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpation of power by rulers. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of the republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally … enable the people to resist and triumph over them.”  [Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, p. 3:746-7, 1833

(e)  While the U.S. Constitution does not adequately define “arms,” we have a clear understanding of its historical context.  The Federalist Papers and other writings of the Founding Fathers and their contemporaries mention “arms” to suggest it has a rather broad definition. For example, in Federalist No. 29, Alexander Hamilton emphasized the deterrent effect of a citizen militia against the U.S. Army: “If circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens.” A reading of Federalist No. 26 will help us understand that when our Founders envisioned the fundamental right of individuals to take up arms against an oppressive government, they understood that sometimes the oppressor was protected by state-of-the-art weaponry (as were the British forces). In other words, the body of citizens must be armed and disciplined accordingly to be a formidable force against a tyrannical government. When the Second Amendment was adopted, the common understanding was that “arms” comprised those weapons that could be carried and discharged/operated by hand, including muzzle-loaded muskets and pistols, swords, knives, bows with arrows, and spears. However, a common-law definition reads “light infantry weapons which can be carried and used, together with ammunition, by a single militiaman, functionally equivalent to those commonly used by infantrymen in land warfare.” That certainly includes modern rifles and handguns, full-auto machine guns and shotguns, grenade and grenade launchers, flares, smoke, tear gas, incendiary rounds, and anti-tank weapons.  It would not, however, include heavy artillery, rockets, or bombs, or lethal chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The standard, therefore, has to be that “arms” includes weapons which would enable citizens to effectively resist government tyranny.  The rule should be that “arms” includes all light infantry weapons that do not cause mass destruction.  If we follow the rule that personal rights should be interpreted broadly and governmental powers narrowly, which was the intention of the Framers, instead of the reverse, then “arms” must be interpreted broadly.  [http://constitution.org/leglrkba.htm%5D

(f)  Nowhere in the Constitution of the United States is the federal government vested with the authority to impose acts, laws, executive orders, rules, or regulations relating to civilian firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition. The right to “keep and bear arms” is absolute and not subject to any qualification, conditions, or degrees.  [Although some may argue that the government has some regulatory power under the Commerce Clause, the Bill of Rights was adopted as a further limitation on this power; See (b)]  Samuel Adams emphasized this point in Massachusetts’ Ratification Convention (January 1788): “That the said Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms … ”  Thomas M. Cooley, renowned jurist (1824-1898), wrote in his text General Principles of Constitutional Law, Third Edition [1898]: “The right [to bear arms] is general. It may be supposed from the phraseology of this provision that the right to keep and bear arms was only guaranteed to the militia; but this would be an interpretation not warranted by the intent. The militia, as has been explained elsewhere, consists of those persons who, under the laws, are liable to the performance of military duty, and are officered and enrolled for service when called upon…. If the right were limited to those enrolled, the purpose of the guarantee might be defeated altogether by the action or the neglect to act of the government it was meant to hold in check. The meaning of the provision undoubtedly is, that the people, from whom the militia must be taken, shall have the right to keep and bear arms, and they need no permission or regulation of law for the purpose. But this enables the government to have a well regulated militia; for to bear arms implies something more than mere keeping; it implies the learning to handle and use them in a way that makes those who keep them ready for their efficient use; in other words, it implies the right to meet for voluntary discipline in arms, observing in so doing the laws of public order.”

In light of the authority above, it would appear that all federal acts, laws, executive orders, rules or regulations tending to infringe upon the right of law-abiding persons to have and bear firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition are in violation of the 2nd Amendment, as well as the 10th Amendment and Supremacy Clause, of the US Constitution.

The Heller and McDonald Decisions –

It just so happens that at this point in time, the Supreme Court has confirmed the original meaning of the Second Amendment.

The District of Columbia v. Heller (2009) and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010) cases marked the first time in about 70 years that the Supreme Court was willing to consider the meaning of the Second Amendment.  For the first time, the Court was presented with the question of whether the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to bear arms for private purposes.  In Heller, the Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia and to use that firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self- defense. The Court based its holding on the text of the Second Amendment and its history, as well as applicable language in state constitutions adopted soon after the Second Amendment.

The McDonald case came to the high Court from the Seventh Circuit, where the panel of judges held that states had the right to enact gun bans because the Fourteenth Amendment did not require the states to respect the rights protected under the Second Amendment.  Luckily, the Supreme Court reversed the Seventh Circuit.  It held that, indeed, the Fourteenth Amendment makes the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense applicable to the states.  In analyzing whether a particular right protected in the Bill of Rights applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court has come up with a threshold determination and that question asks whether the particular right is one that is “fundamental to the Nation’s scheme of ordered liberty” or one that is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.”  If the Court determines that it is so, then the Court will declare that the particular right is appropriately applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.  Based on the review done in Heller and the decision it reached, the Court in the McDonald case recognized that the right to self-defense was one such “fundamental” and “deeply rooted” right.  Justice Clarence Thomas went through a detailed analysis to explain just how deeply-rooted that right is.

Prior to the Heller case, the last case the Supreme Court heard on the Second Amendment was United States v. Miller, in 1938.  It was a questionable decision then and unfortunately, because of the Court’s doctrine of stare decisis (“that which has been decided”: otherwise known as court “precedent”), the Court was still bound by it.  Actually, the argument was never asserted in Miller that the Second Amendment protects the individual right to bear arm. Yet the Supreme Court nevertheless upheld a federal gun control law and said that the Second Amendment only protects arms that are reasonably related to the maintenance of a state militia.

Since that horrible decision, federal circuit and federal district courts have ruled on dozens and dozens of cases in which gun control laws were challenged under the Second Amendment and they have consistently read the Second Amendment to protect a state’s right to preserve a militia and have it armed…  but not as an individual right to bear arms for private purposes unrelated to militia services.  So, while the militia theory of the Second Amendment, or collective rights theory of the Second Amendment, had only been vaguely mentioned by the Supreme Court in Miller, it had become the dominant law of the land in the federal courts in the 70 years prior to Heller.

In the meantime, scholars began to study the Second Amendment and its history.  Over the years, much historical, academic, scholarly material were collected which completely undermined the argument that the Second Amendment protected only a state’s right to preserve a militia and not an individual’s right to bear arms. Over the last 30 years there has been literally a tidal wave of scholarship looking into the original meaning and purpose of the Second Amendment.  The overwhelming majority of studies have sided with view that our Founders sought to protect the individual’s right to bear arms for self-defense.  And it was this new-found understanding and appreciation of the Second Amendment that guided the Court’s decision in Heller and then McDonald.

In February 2003, the six residents of Washington, D.C. filed a lawsuit in the District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the constitutionality of provisions of the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975, a local law (part of the District of Columbia Code) enacted pursuant to District of Columbia home rule. This law restricted residents from owning handguns, excluding those grandfathered in by registration prior to 1975 and those possessed by active and retired law enforcement officers. The law also required that all firearms including rifles and shotguns be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.” A district court judge dismissed the lawsuit. The US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, however reversed the dismissal and struck down provisions of the FCRA as unconstitutional. In 2008, the case (District of Columbia v. Heller) came before the Supreme Court.  The issue presented was whether the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense.  The Court held that it does and as such, the DC ordinance which banned the possession of handguns in the home was struck down as an unconstitutional violation of a fundamental and essential individual right.

In 2009, 75-year-old Chicago resident Otis McDonald took the initiative to protect himself from the increased threat of crime in his neighborhood of Morgan Park. Since buying a house there in 1971, he watched as the neighborhood fell into the hands of gangs and drug dealers. His lawn was regularly littered with refuse and his home and garage had been broken into a combined five times, with the most recent robbery committed by a man McDonald recognized from his own neighborhood.  An experienced hunter, McDonald legally owned shotguns, but believed them too unwieldy in the event of a robbery, and wanted to purchase a handgun for personal home defense.  But he was unable to do so under Chicago’s city-wide gun ban. Pursuant to the ban, all handguns were prohibited (after 1982) and all firearms had to be registered. In 2008, he joined three other Chicago residents in filing a lawsuit challenging the ban as an unconstitutional violation of the Second Amendment.  The case (McDonald v. City of Chicago) was heard by the Supreme Court in 2009.

The question presented to the Court was whether the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is incorporated as against the States by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities or Due Process Clauses.  In other words, the Court was asked to determine whether the US Constitution protects the Second Amendment against infringement or violation by the States.  Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas answered in very strong terms that it does.

American Thinker gave an excellent presentation of the case: “The most important job of the government is the protection of its people. That protection involves their physical safety and the security of their property. It means providing police presence to deter criminals before they commit crimes and harsh penalties for offenders whose crimes were not deterred. The fact is that most crimes cannot be deterred because the bad guys don’t generally mug people in front of the officer on patrol. Since the police can’t be everywhere, people need a way to protect themselves.  And that was how Otis McDonald felt when he walked into a Chicago police station and applied for a .22-caliber pistol two years ago. As the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging Chicago’s 28-year handgun ban, McDonald was a sympathetic figure: an elderly man trying to protect himself from violent hoodlums preying upon his neighborhood.  He was also a neighborhood activist, proposing alternative policing strategies to make his neighborhood safer; his efforts earned him death threats from local gangs.”

The Supreme Court was given statistics from the Chicago Police Department which showed that the City’s handgun murder rate actually increased since the ban was enacted and that Chicago residents now face one of the highest murder rates in the country.  They were given statistics to show that guns increasingly end up in the hands of criminals, gang members, and others who are mal-intentioned.  It is also a statistical fact that legal gun owners are exponentially less likely to commit a crime.  Bob Weir, a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police offered his views on gun control laws: “We have often heard a scenario in which a law-abiding citizen, unable to wait for assistance any longer, took action against an intruder and lived to talk about it. One of the scariest scenes I can imagine is one in which I’m awakened in the middle of the night by strange sounds coming from another room of the house and I have no weapons to protect my family….  During my twenty years as a cop, I took a lot of guns off the bad guys, none of which were registered. How could they be? Bad guys aren’t allowed to have registered guns! Only good guys have that right. Hence, when you make gun possession illegal for the good guys, the bad guys will be the only ones with guns.”

It is also worth noting that in the weeks leading up to the decision, Chicago suffered a surge in gun violence, with between 26-55 shootings per week and many of them being fatalities.  Bob Weir commented: “We’ll never know if some of those lives would have been spared had the victims been armed. But one thing seems obvious: If the guys with illegal guns knew that the rest of the population was unarmed, they could kick down any door and have their way with the residents. The only thing stopping them now is the knowledge that many people have guns and are willing to use and capable of using them to protect their families. We’ve all heard tape recordings of people who dialed 911 as someone was breaking into their home only to be told that the police may be several minutes away.  In cases where the caller was armed, shots could be heard as the intruder gained entry and tried to attack the caller.”

Police will often joke that many street gangs are equipped with enough firearms to take on the Taliban. In New Jersey, a Trenton-area gang threatened war on the Trenton Police. They sent an anonymous letter to the Trenton Times warning that at the hour of their choosing, they would bomb the building. Eventually the Trenton police would uncover an incredible arsenal of weapons that the gang had compiled. No gun control law could have prevented that arsenal. Such laws only strengthen the black market. Furthermore, our law enforcement and criminal justice system has often proven inadequate to protect law-abiding citizens who become victims of crime and inadequate to disarm the thugs that roam freely throughout the country.

To make matters worse, the DC Court of Appeals had handed down a ruling in 1981 that should weigh heavily on anyone even contemplating giving up gun rights to the government. It held that a city has no legally enforceable duty to protect its citizens from crime. That case was Warren v. District of Columbia.  It involved three women who were living in a townhouse in DC. Under DC law at the time, they were forbidden not only to own handguns but also mace, pepper-spray, and other non-lethal tools of self-defense.  Late one evening in March 1975, two thugs broke into the townhouse and attacked the woman downstairs at the time. They began beating her and then raped here. The other two women, hearing the struggle, called 911 and were told that police were being sent.  As the transcript later showed, the dispatcher reported only that there was a domestic disturbance. The squad car that responded simply drove past the residence, didn’t observe any sign of a disturbance, and drove on his way. The women upstairs then called 911 again and were again told that help was on its way. This time, the dispatcher didn’t even bother to send out a radio call.  Believing their friend was dying, the women called down to the intruders, telling them that “Police are on their way!” Instead of fleeing, the thugs went upstairs and forced the women at knifepoint to the apartment below.  For the next 14 hours, the three women were held captive, raped repeatedly, beaten, abused, and forced to commit sex acts upon one another for the intruders’ entertainment. Luckily, the women were spared their lives.

The women sued the District of Columbia for failing to provide police assistance and lost. The DC Court of Appeals agreed and ruled that the city had no legal duty to protect its citizens, even when its employees have given assurances that help would be provided.  Under the ruling, the government is free from responsibility in protecting its citizens even as it is also free to ensure that they cannot protect themselves either.

The Heller and McDonald cases have undermined the government in one aspect of theWarren decision. The government cannot prevent law-abiding citizens from exercising their right to keep and bear arms for self-protection. The Supreme Court, in those cases, held that the right to own a gun (bear arms) is a fundamental right, one that is firmly rooted in our history and heritage, and as such, citizens cannot be denied this right by the federal government or by any State. But we are standing on the precipice of putting the government back in the exact position it was under Warren – absolved from responsibility to protect us and free to prevent us from protecting ourselves.

But permitting the government to condition, qualify, and regulate the right of self-defense will put the power back in the hands of criminals, will put law-abiding citizens at risk, and will set the country on the same path of government gun control that has defined the tyrannical regimes of Europe, Asia, and Africa.  The bottom line is that the measures are unconstitutional and the power to stand up to such unconstitutional measures lies with the States and with each state and local elected official and state and local civil servant who has taken a solemn vow to support and defend the US Constitution.  Unfortunately, as John F. Kennedy once said: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

The American people are not going to stand by peacefully and allow their right of self-defense to be eroded. Government must serve the rights of the people.

References:
Tennessee SB0250 –  http://legiscan.com/TN/text/SB0250

Michael Maharrey, National Communications Director for the Tenth Amendment Center, addresses the arguments made by Tennessee Robert Cooper in his brief against SB0250 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65o_vo8nUIU

The Intent of the Second Amendment –  http://constitution.org/leglrkba.htm

Federalist No. 45 –  http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa45.htm

Federalist No. 78 –  http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa78.htm

Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803)

Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958)

Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 373 (1856)

McDonald v. City of Chicago, 153 U.S. 535 (Oct. 2009)

District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. __ (2008)

Warren v. District of Columbia (444 A.2d. 1, D.C. Ct. of Ap. 1981)

Bob Weir, “Thanks to Otis McDonald and the Supremes,” American Thinker, July 3, 2010.

James Madison: Report on the Virginia Resolutions  (Jan. 1800)  –  http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch8s42.html

Thomas Jefferson: Resolutions Relative to the Alien & Sedition Act (November 10, 1798) –http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch8s41.html

The Legal and Historical Roots of  the Second Amendment (video) –http://www.secondamendmentdocumentary.com/

The Police Have No Legal Duty to Protect Its Citizens (from the legal documentary “In Search of the Second Amendment”) –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lb3rAglRsqU

Alo Konsen, “The Second Amendment Definition of ‘Arms’,” 2003.  Referenced at:http://brainshavings.com/the-right-to-keep-and-bear-what/

Publius Huldah explains why federal gun control laws are unconstitutional –http://publiushuldah.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/publius-huldah-shows-federal-gun-control-is-unlawful/

“Obama Gun Control Ban: Confiscate Firearms, NRA Claims,” Newsday New York, January 23, 2013.  Referenced at:   http://newyork.newsday.com/news/nation/obama-gun-control-plan-seize-firearms-nra-claims-1.4697883

“Here are Obama’s 23 Executive Orders,” Forbes, January 16, 2013 –  http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2013/01/16/here-are-the-23-executive-orders-on-gun-safety-signed-today-by-the-president/

The 23 Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions:

1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.

2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.

3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.

4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.

5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.

6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.

7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign

8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).

9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.

10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make itwidely available to law enforcement.

11. Nominate an ATF director.

12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.

13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.

14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.

15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effectiveuse of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to developinnovative technologies.

16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.

17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.

18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.

19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.

20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.

21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.

22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.

23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.

Reference:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2013/01/16/here-are-the-23-executive-orders-on-gun-safety-signed-today-by-the-president/