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What is the Second Amendment and why does it matter to us today? The Second Amendment as written in the constitution states “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.” (US Const. amendment II). The Second Amendment was created to prevent the government of the newly founded United States of America from abusing and endangering its people. The Second Amendment of the Constitution has been misrepresented and misinterpreted countless times since its conception. This has led to countless debates and problems centered around it. The evolution of both the interpretation of the Second Amendment and the evolution of firearms have not helped either, creating multiple conflicting laws and clauses.
Similarly Justices have the ability to interpret amendments differently, further altering the interpretation of the Second Amendment in modern times. This can be seen in the case of Heller v. District of Columbia. The Second Amendment does serve an important purpose today and it always will, but it can not go unmoderated and must be adjusted.To understand the significance of the Second Amendment today, understanding how it was interpreted during its original inception is important. When it was created on December 15, 1791, the Second Amendment had two very different interpretations, many people believed that the clause mentioning, “[…] the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” (US Const. Amendment II) applied to any citizen of the United States of America and that no matter the case, to remove the firearm of a citizen is deemed unconstitutional.
On the other hand, people also believed that the prefatory clause, “A well regulated militia” (US Const. Amendment II) meant that this amendment only applied to the state’s militia so a removal of the firearm of a citizen who does not belong to a militia would not be unconstitutional. As Adam Winkler, a professor of law at UCLA, notes, “While the Founders sought to protect the citizenry from being disarmed entirely, they did not wish to prevent government from adopting reasonable regulations of guns and gun owners.” (Winkler and Lund) and as Nelson Lund, a professor at George Mason and the Antonin Scalia School of Law, states, “Similarly, no reasonable person could believe that violent criminals should have unrestricted access to guns, or that any individual should possess a nuclear weapon” (Winkler and Lund). Both of them state that the Second Amendment cannot go unregulated and that the unclarity of the Second Amendment has posed a staunch problem for the Justices as well as the citizens of the United States. In Heller v. District of Columbia we can see that the interpretation of the Second Amendment’s clauses played a large role in the outcome of this suit. Defendant Heller, a policeman, applied for a handgun so he could have it at home.
The District denied him the right to own the gun, so he filed a suit against them citing that the District has violated his right to own a firearm. The District Court denied Heller’s case, but the D. C. Circuit reversed it, they said that the Second Amendment clearly protects an individual’s rights to possess firearms, and that infringing on that right was unconstitutional. Adding, that the city’s ban on all handguns and the fact that guns remaining in a person’s home must remain nonfunctional even when needed for self defense, infringed on that right. Scalia cited, “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” (Heller v. District of Columbia). This suit was taken all the way up to the Supreme Court, the Justices affirmed that the Second Amendment’s clause said that the right to bear arms is an individual right, and that it can also be exercised at home. The Second Amendment was created so that the Anti-Federalists wouldn’t fear that a standing army controlled by the government would be able to oppress the citizens of a nation. In the dissent of Justice Breyer he acknowledged that fact, “To assure 18th-century citizens that they could keep arms for militia purposes would necessarily have allowed them to keep arms that they could have used for self-defense as well” (Heller v. District of Columbia). It was also noted before and after the ratification of the Second Amendment, many laws in states regulating guns included an individual’s right to bear arms, this affirmed the Justices’ interpretation of the Second Amendment.
The Justices then went on to say that the Second Amendment, despite protecting an individual’s right to bear arms, was not unlimited, Justice Scalia stated, “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,” (Heller v. District of Columbia). It could be restricted in cases where exercising that right may not be lawful, such as at a school or at a government office.
The court came to the conclusion because of Heller’s oral statement, saying “D. C. licensing law is permissible if it is not enforced arbitrary and capriciously,” (Heller v. District of Columbia). They decided that as long as the Second Amendment is to be exercised and upheld, the District must give Heller the license and permission to carry a handgun in his home. This case solidifies the 21st century interpretation of the Second Amendment.
The Second Amendment’s modern interpretation is visible in the Heller v. District of Columbia. It is more widely considered as an amendment that protects an individual’s rights to keep and bear arms, but can be limited by other external laws as long as they do not infringe on the basic right of a citizen to defend themselves. As such unnecessarily powerful and absurd arms such as the AR-15 or M-16, military grade assault weapons, may not be protected by the second amendment. But, a more conventional and less lethal firearm such as a pistol will be protected under that amendment. The restriction of what kind of weapons we can own is still very important today. This right is integral to our protection as citizens, it is just another one of many tools that protect citizens from a corrupt government.
Many people believe that this amendment has lead to the deaths of countless people and should be taken away. But, the idea that a tyrannical government cannot abuse a defenceless people is absurd. It happens all around the globe, present in dictatorships where the citizens have little to no political tools to combat an evil and hellbent regime. In conclusion the Second Amendment is a very controversial and flexible amendment but it is still a well needed right, without the Second Amendment many people would not be able to defend themselves today. It has evolved past a period in which the threat of a tyrannical government was a very staunch possibility.
The Heller v. District of Columbia perfectly showcases how the Second Amendment’s interpretation has evolved. Becoming less about the rights of a militia to bear arms but instead that of a citizens. As firearms and weapons continue to evolve it should be interesting to see how the Second Amendment will change and how it might be interpreted in one hundred years or maybe even in a thousand years from now. Technology may continue to advance and as long as it does the Second Amendment may require some tweaking or modifications.
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