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Supreme Court Holds Right to Bear Arms Applies to Individuals 2221

Now.Imperfect writes "In its last day of session, the Supreme Court has definitively clarified the meaning of the Second Amendment. The confusion is whether the Second Amendment allows merely for the existence of a state militia, or the private ownership of guns. This ruling is in response to a case regarding the 32-year-old Washington DC ban on guns." This is one of the most-watched Supreme Court cases in a long time, and Wikipedia's page on the case gives a good overview; the actual text of the decision (PDF) runs to 157 pages, but the holding is summarized in the first three. There are certainly other aspects of the Second Amendment left unaddressed, however, so you can't go straight to the store for a recently made automatic rifle.
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Supreme Court Holds Right to Bear Arms Applies to Individuals

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  • Sweet (Score:5, Funny)

    by multipartmixed ( 163409 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:38PM (#23951831) Homepage

    Now they can address more pressing issues. Like the right to bare chests.

  • Oh great... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ivan256 ( 17499 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:40PM (#23951861)

    Now we get to hear from a bunch of people who normally bitch about the government taking away individual freedoms try to justify their hypocrisy while they argue for gun control, and how the supreme court wasn't thinking of the children...

    • Re:Oh great... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:46PM (#23951985) Homepage Journal

      Indeed. We will also hear those for whom the Second is the only Amendment that matters telling us that torture, wiretapping, and disregard of habeas corpus telling us that it's okay as long as we get to keep our guns. IOW, there's plenty of hypocrisy to go around here, spread across the political spectrum.

      • Re:Oh great... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Broken scope ( 973885 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:54PM (#23952167) Homepage
        The annoying part is when the government starts acting this way is when you may actually need the those guns.
        • Re:Oh great... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Xtravar ( 725372 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @02:00PM (#23952343) Homepage Journal

          That's not annoying - that's helpful, isn't it?

          When one party gets into power and abuses stuff, you can use your first amendment. When the other party gets into power and abuses stuff, you can use your second amendment. At least in theory.

          I'm happy. The Supreme Court has been making some good decisions lately (ex: Guantanamo).

      • Re:Oh great... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by aurispector ( 530273 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @02:10PM (#23952611)

        I always understood it to mean that when the torture, wiretapping and disregard of habeas corpus gets bad enough, we are supposed to bear the arms and water the garden of liberty with the blood of tyrants, or something.

        Here in Philly, the murder epidemic is bad enough that they're talking about random "stop and search" in an effort to crack down. Since we have an underfunded police department, city courts and prison system I'm not sure any further restrictions would really make a difference anyway. There's too few cops to enforce too many laws, too few courts to handle too many cases, and too little prison space to house too many criminals.

        Regardless of the societal problems that lead to the endemic poverty, drug abuse and crime it doesn't seem like more rulemaking will make a difference.

        • Re:Oh great... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Xonstantine ( 947614 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @02:48PM (#23953643)

          The majority of laws passed these days target law abiding citizens as a means of control rather than crime prevention. Gun control laws are no different.

      • Re:Oh great... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Kevin Stevens ( 227724 ) <> on Thursday June 26, 2008 @04:29PM (#23956215)

        Interestingly enough, I am quite liberal and used to be very much for gun control. The past eight years of torture, wiretapping, and suspension of Habeas Corpus made me realize that the 2nd amendment is not just an issue of rednecks and their right to hunt.

        I feel the Bush administration shows what can happen when the gov't no longer regards the people it serves. Governments need to fear their citizens, even if only a little bit. An armed populace may be the ultimate check and balance.

    • Re:Oh great... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hibiki_r ( 649814 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:54PM (#23952185)

      Some of us, who favor gun control, do not have any problem whatsoever with this decision. It seems like a perfectly reasonable view of the constitution as written. Trying to say otherwise is intellectually dishonest.

      What I question is the constitution itself: Is the right to bear arms really a key element to protest against excessive government control? India didn't gain their independence through guns. Today, we don't need them.

      On the other hand, the right of privacy, not clearly stated in the American constitution, is necessary, and should be added. There was no need for it in the 1800s, if just because it was impossible to violate with their technology. It was pretty easy to keep the content of your conversations private: don't talk near a government official. Today, you can be snooped on alone in your home, over a phone, or on the internet. Technology has created a new issue, that deserves a constitutional amendment. Some European countries with constitutions that came after the telephone do cover the right of privacy explicitly. To become a freer country, America must follow their lead.

      • Re:Oh great... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dch24 ( 904899 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @02:05PM (#23952451) Journal
        The rights of individuals do not stem from the Constitution. The Constitution (well, Bill of Rights) specifically lists some rights that are protected, and shall not be infringed, to limit the powers of the government.

        If owning a gun made sense in 1776, well, that's great. Let's just leave it in there and not ban it.

        If there are new protections which we must add, to further limit the government, such as the protection of privacy (unreasonable search and seizure?), perhaps we need a new amendment.
      • Re:Oh great... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by A nonymous Coward ( 7548 ) * on Thursday June 26, 2008 @02:07PM (#23952497)

        Read up on the Deacons for Defense, armed blacks, mostly WW II and Korean War veterans, who used their right to keep and bear arms to stare down corrupt state and local governments which were run by the KKK.

        This was 40 years ago.

        Now tell me how much more enlightened we are today and tell me how unnecessary the 2nd amendment is.

      • Re:Oh great... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mckorr ( 1274964 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @02:14PM (#23952731) Homepage
        I must disagree. Today is exactly when we need them. Now, please read on before you start flaming...

        As affirmed by this decision, part of the reason the 2nd Amendment exists is

        "premised on the private use of arms for activities such as hunting and self-defense, the latter being understood as resistance to either private lawlessness or the depredations of a tyrannical government (or a threat from abroad)."

        Note that last part, the "depredations of a tyrannical government". The 2nd exists to ensure that, should the government devolve into a tyranny, the citizens will possess the means to overthow it, just as the founding fathers overthrew theirs.

        The people who wrote the first ten Amendments were not naive and idealistic. They knew very well that power corrupts, so they put in a safety valve. Should the system of checks and balances fail the citizens would retain the power to put it back.

        The Executive Branch of the U.S. government has been consolidating power unto itself for a long time. We have "police actions" and "operations" which, while clearly acts of war, have not been declared as such. Instead the president has decided that, as Commander in Chief, he does not need the Senate's approval. We have a degradation of the 1st Amendment, with warrantless wiretaps. The 5th is gone. If you refuse to incriminate yourself you can be declared a terrorist and shipped off to Gitmo to be tortured.

        We are all familiar with the list.

        If the current trend continues, if presidents continue to subvert the Constitution, gathering more and more power unto themselves while destroying the system of checks and balances, we are going to need those guns. Yes, we all pray that it is never necessary, but we certainly can't preach about how wonderful our "rights" are if we are not prepared to do what is necessary to keep them.

        As the saying goes, "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance."

      • Re:Oh great... (Score:5, Informative)

        by jfsimard79 ( 1303437 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @02:15PM (#23952765)
        Quote: 'India didn't gain their independence through guns.' Yeah, but they also died by the thousands.
      • Re:Oh great... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Zeek40 ( 1017978 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @02:21PM (#23952913)
        Re: India. "Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the act of depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest" --Mahatma Gandhi
      • Re:Oh great... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by fingusernames ( 695699 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @08:03PM (#23959995) Homepage

        Perhaps you should re-evaluate what you question. The US Constitution doesn't grant or create any rights. That was true before there was a Bill of Rights, and is no less true afterward. It merely recognizes them. That's a great distinction. We believe that people have certain inalienable rights. And our Constitution recognizes those. And per the 9th Amendment, its specific recognition of a very small subset of our rights does not imply that we do not have more. Notwithstanding that the Supremes historically don't like the 9th Amendment and would prefer to find asinine things like 'penumbras' of other rights.

        We the people are sovereign, we hold all power, and we have all rights. My rights don't come from a piece of paper, a court, or Congress, or my neighbors.

        Regarding the right to keep and bear arms: there are those, such as I, who would argue that a free person has that right, regardless of the existence of the 2nd amendment. An unfree person does not have that right. A free person has a right to the means necessary to protect his or or liberty, life and property from all enemies, foreign or domestic. The question is not whether we have the right. The question is to what extent can that right be regulated, and that is a good question. And now, the Supreme Court has finally set us on the path of answering THAT question, not debating over whether we have a fundamental right or not.

        To the point of not needing guns: we need arms to protect ourselves from a tyrannical government. I'm not saying that we need to overthrow our government now or at any foreseeable time, or even that we could. I am saying that as free people we have the right to the means to do so, even if the need seems implausibly remote, and a good way to continue to ensure that implausibility is to continue to let free people arm themselves. A people stripped of their fundamental right to protect their liberty, by force of arms if necessary, can only be stripped of more rights. The fact that we retain the right to arms, that we remain vigilant and cognizant of our fundamental rights as free people, is a strong indicator that we retain our other equally important rights.


  • by Astro Dr Dave ( 787433 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:41PM (#23951883)
    I'm glad they made the right decision, but shocked that it was so close (5-4). I'd expect more intellectual honesty from Supreme Court judges.
  • by pwnies ( 1034518 ) * <> on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:43PM (#23951905) Homepage Journal
    Thank goodness. Gun control laws only keep the honest person honest and defenseless.
    Law abiding citizens will obey the law and revoke ownership of guns. Criminals on the other hand already have a mind to break the law, and having a law against guns won't stop them for a second.
  • by corsec67 ( 627446 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:43PM (#23951907) Homepage Journal

    Gun Control only serves to take guns out of the hands of people that give a shit about the law.

    Lets have more law abiding citizens with guns with the ability to defend themselves against criminals.

    Police aren't there to defend you, they are there to arrest people (generally after they commit a crime).

    • by Stevenovitch ( 1292358 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:58PM (#23952281)
      While I agree in principle with the decision, the argument that gun ownership restriction make the public less safe is ridiculous. It just isn't really supported by the numbers []. Which show that aside from the few exceptions, in general states with more liberal gun ownership laws tend to have a significantly higher rate of gun deaths. But all of this is completely besides the point because the right to own a gun is stated clearly in the bill of rights and that should be enough. At least of the courage to stand by that fact and not make disingenuous arguments about how it's actually better for society on some vague level.
  • It's about damn time (Score:5, Informative)

    by sabre86 ( 730704 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:43PM (#23951919)
    It has long amazed me how anyone could manage to construe the subordinate clause "A well regulated militia being necessary to a free state," as anything other than an explanation as to why the amendment was being included in the first place. It is clear that this clause is an introduction to the rest of the amendment: "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." It's an even stronger prohibition on action than the First Amendment's "Congress shall make no law..."

    Scalia and co, make this very point in their decision (found at [] -- a wonderful site for Supreme Court decisions. The site, really.):

    Held: 1. The Second Amendment 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. Pp. 2-53. (a) The Amendment's prefatory clause announces a purpose, but does not limit or expand the scope of the second part, the operative clause. The operative clause's text and history demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms. Pp. 2-22. ...

    It's dead on.

    On a related note, why don't new sites ever link to the actual decision? It makes no sense.

    • by samkass ( 174571 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:50PM (#23952075) Homepage Journal

      What about the fact that it doesn't say "guns", just "arms"? I want my personal nuclear weapons!

      • by Astro Dr Dave ( 787433 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @02:04PM (#23952439)
        Read the opinion; there are limits to those arms protected by the 2nd Amendment. Here is an excerpt from Scalia's majority opinion:

        Some have made the argument, bordering on the frivolous, that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment. We do not interpret constitutional rights that way. Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications, e.g., Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U. S. 844, 849 (1997), and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search, e.g., Kyllo v. United States, 533 U. S. 27, 35â"36 (2001), the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.
        Elsewhere, he writes:

        We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those "in common use at the time." 307 U. S., at 179. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of "dangerous and unusual weapons." [...] It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military serviceâ"M-16 rifles and the likeâ"may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause. But as we have said, the conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment's ratification was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty. It may well be true today that a militia, to be as effective as militias in the 18th century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. Indeed, it may be true that no amount of small arms could be useful against modern-day bombers and tanks. But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right.

        Breyer's dissent notes a logical problem with the majority opinion:

        Nor is it at all clear to me how the majority decides which loaded "arms" a homeowner may keep. The majority says that that Amendment protects those weapons "typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes." Ante, at 53. This definition conveniently excludes machineguns, but permits handguns, which the majority describes as "the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home." Ante, at 57; see also ante, at 54â"55. But what sense does this approach make? According to the majority's reasoning, if Congress and the States lift restrictions on the possession and use of machineguns, and people buy machineguns to protect their homes, the Court will have to reverse course and find that the Second Amendment does, in fact, protect the individual self-defense-related right to possess a machinegun. On the majority's reasoning, if tomorrow someone invents a particularly useful, highly dangerous selfdefense weapon, Congress and the States had better ban it immediately, for once it becomes popular Congress will no longer possess the constitutional authority to do so. In essence, the majority determines what regulations are permissible by looking to see what existing regulations permit. There is no basis for believing that the Framers intended such circular reasoning.
    • by scubamage ( 727538 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:55PM (#23952211)
      Note also that the phrase "well regulated militia being necessary to a free state" was also a throw back to the Declaration of Independence, wherin it states that it is the people's duty to reinstitute a free state if the government becomes oppressive to the ideals under which the free state was originally created.
  • What a moot issue (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DJ Jones ( 997846 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:47PM (#23952013) Homepage
    The individuals who are going around killing people with hand guns can't get a permit for a gun in the first place. These individuals buy their hand guns on underground black markets; markets that will exist whether hand gun possession is legal or not.

    What's the point?

    The real intention of the 2nd amendment is to allow citizens to revolt (or at least threaten to). And that is a right that I savor.
    • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:55PM (#23952197) Journal

      American citizens are already revolting. They don't need guns for that. ;)

  • Gun Rights (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Shajenko42 ( 627901 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:48PM (#23952039)
    I'm a liberal, but I'm from Texas. Gun rights are about the only opinion I share with the right wing, though likely for different reasons.

    There are tons of arguments against guns, such as safety in the home or availability to criminals. But in my mind it comes down to just one thing -

    The availability of guns to the general public is the last safeguard against tyrrany. It becomes much easier to fight an oppressive government if you have the weapons to do it with.

    And let me preempt a few arguments right here - a few of you might ask how a bunch of rag-tag resisters can fight against the most powerful, technologically advanced military in the world?

    For your answer, take one look at Iraq.
  • by Fulcrum of Evil ( 560260 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:50PM (#23952079)
    From the article:

    Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the majority "would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons." He said such evidence "is nowhere to be found."

    Apparently Stevens needs to learn how to read. Of course the framers wanted to reserve the tools for revolution to the people.

  • Kansas (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nimey ( 114278 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:50PM (#23952083) Homepage Journal

    Ah, but soon you /can/ get an automatic weapon in Kansas. Starting on 1 July this year, Kansas residents may own automatic weapons, silencers, and sawed-off shotguns.

  • (Score:5, Informative)

    by sm62704 ( 957197 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:52PM (#23952131) Journal

    How about a link to a real newspaper?

    here []
    here []
    here []
    here [] (oops, my bad ;)
    here []
    here []
    here []
    or how about one from a city that is directly impacted by the decision, like here? []

    Mayor Daley calls Supreme Court's gun-ban reversal 'a very frightening decision'
    High court strikes down Washington D.C. law in ruling that could have Chicago implications
    An angry Mayor Richard Daley on Thursday called the Supreme Court's overturning of the Washington D.C. gun ban "a very frightening decision" and vowed to fight vigorously any challenges to Chicago's ban.

    The mayor, speaking at a Navy Pier event, said he was sure mayors nationwide, who carry the burden of keeping cities safe, will be outraged by the decision.

    Chicago's handgun ban, which has lasted for more than a quarter-century, came under threat earlier in the day when the Supreme Court decided that Washington D.C.'s law against handgun ownership is unconstitutional.

    In a 5-4 decision, the high court determined that Americans have the right to own guns for self-defense as well as hunting. The decision, which had been expected, is a win for gun-rights advocates and provides a better definition of the rights of Americans to own firearms.

    Illinois gun-rights activists have said they expect to mount a quick legal challenge to the Chicago Weapons Ordinance.

    Other city officials said they felt confidant that challenge would fail.

    As someone who tries to avoid RTFAs, I was annoyed that the summary dodn't even HINT at what the actual decision was, obviously to drive traffic to the submitter's site.

    I'm disappointed in you, timothy. I'm sure there were a lot more submissions than this one. Since this is Thursday, I hereby nominate you as "Aurthur Dent" (Monday is my Dent Day).

    Why do I have to <p> on my paragraphs when I've selected "plain old text"??

  • by MrSteveSD ( 801820 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:55PM (#23952201)
    I suppose the claws could cut any intruder up pretty bad, but are they practical?
  • by s2jcpete ( 989386 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @01:59PM (#23952301)
    I am pretty neutral on the subject, but I can attest to the fact that the gun ban was not working in DC. I lived in the district for a while, and my girlfriend had a gun shoved in her face by a 14 year old for her purse. I don't think he cared about the gun ban.
  • People (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Skapare ( 16644 ) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @02:08PM (#23952525) Homepage

    Amendment 2.

    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 term "people" is also used elsewhere in the US Constitution:

    Article I, Section 2.

    The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the PEOPLE of the several States ...

    Amendment 1.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the PEOPLE peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Amendment 4.

    The right of the PEOPLE to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    Amendment 9.

    The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the PEOPLE .

    Amendment 10.

    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the PEOPLE .

    Amendment 17.

    The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the PEOPLE thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

    When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the PEOPLE fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

    Anyone having trouble understanding what the word "people" was understood to mean by the writers of the US Constitution, Bill Of Rights, and the Seventeenth Amendment?

  • by flajann ( 658201 ) <[ed.xmg] [ta] [llehctim.derf]> on Thursday June 26, 2008 @02:08PM (#23952547) Homepage Journal
    The best way to control crime is to promote responsible gun ownership. For those cities with high violent crime rates, if a criminal had reason to suspect many if not most were packing concealed iron, he'd be a lot less likely to commit a crime. And if he did, well...

    Besides, everyone knows that if you make laws prohibiting gun ownership, that only affects law-abiding citizens. The criminals always manages to have guns anyway, thus leaving the law-abider at a severe disadvantage.

    Responsible Gun Ownership is the way to go, and will result in less crime, lessen the need for police (which themselves figure into the crime component), and fix a host of other ills.

    Many liberals will disagree with me, but I have yet to see a sound counter-argument. And no, I am NOT a conservative -- I am a Libertarian.

  • by celest ( 100606 ) <> on Thursday June 26, 2008 @03:22PM (#23954537) Homepage

    No matter what side of this issue you are on, the dissenting opinions are worth a careful read. They highlight and document in detail the errors made in the Majority decision, the most blatant of which being a complete misquote of a supreme court precedent used to support their opinion:

    Majority, page 47: "We (the supreme court, in 1876, in United States v. Cruikshank) describe the right protected by the Second Amendment as 'bearing arms for a lawful purpose'."

    The actual precedent set in 1876 was in fact the /exact opposite/:

    Stevens, J., Dissent, page 39: "The Court wrote, as to counts 2 and 10 of respondents' indictment: 'The right there specified (in the indictment that they were overturning) is that of "bearing arms for a lawful purpose" This is NOT (emphasis added) a right granted by the Constitution.' ... 'This is one of the amendments that has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the NATIONAL (emphasis added) government.'"

    Justice Stevens continues: "The Cruikshank Court explained that the defective indictment contained such language, but the court did not itself describe the right, or endorse the indictment's description of the right."

    There are many other such contradictions in the ruling that merit serious reading. No matter what side of the fence you are on, it seems this ruling is based on very shaky grounds and dubious interpretations of precedents.

    The accusations that one should expect more "intellectual honesty from Supreme Court judges", attacking the dissenters are completely unfounded and could only have come from someone who didn't bother to read their well-referenced and well-argued opinions.

"Call immediately. Time is running out. We both need to do something monstrous before we die." -- Message from Ralph Steadman to Hunter Thompson