The Supreme Court Is Headed for a Second Amendment Showdown

Here’s a quick pop quiz: Please describe the current extent of the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms” as defined by the Supreme Court of the United States. The answer is simple and profoundly limited. The combination of two cases—District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago—means that Americans possess an individual right to keep and carry an operable handgun in their homes for self-defense. That individual right is protected against infringement by governments at all levels—federal, state, and local.

And that’s it. That’s the right. So far. The Supreme Court has not opined on a host of relevant firearms restrictions. There are no decisions about assault weapons bans or bans on high-capacity magazines. There are no decisions on the right to carry a weapon outside the home. Thus, the vast, vast majority of gun regulations in your state exist outside of Supreme Court oversight (so far) and are matters of state law or lower-court rulings. 

That’s not to say that SCOTUS has been entirely silent on these matters. In the Heller decision, for example, Justice Scalia (writing for the majority) indicated that a wide variety of common gun control regulations would pass constitutional muster:

[Nothing] in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

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