Supreme Court Can Reassert Second Amendment's Meaning

This past March, a gun law enacted by the people of the District of the Columbia over thirty years ago was struck down by two judges who held that the law was prohibited by the Second Amendment. The 2-1 panel decision in D.C. v. Heller was the first -- and only -- time a federal appeals court had ever struck down a gun law as violating the Second Amendment since its adoption over 200 years ago. That decision was judicial activism at its worst and was wrong.

The Supreme Court has now decided to review that erroneous decision. In deciding to consider a Second Amendment case for the first time in almost seventy years, the Court has the opportunity to reassert the Amendment’s settled meaning, and reverse an incorrect lower court decision that deprived the citizens of the District of the Columbia of the power to enact the public safety laws they choose to protect themselves from the scourge of gun violence.

Since its enactment in 1791 courts have been virtually unanimous in their view that the Second Amendment poses no impediment to strong gun laws. As its text suggests, and as a unanimous Supreme Court held in United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939), the "declaration and guarantee" of the Second Amendment "must be interpreted and applied" in accord with its "obvious purpose" -- "to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness" of a "well regulated Militia." History shows that the Framers’ sole concern was protecting the ability of states to maintain militias as counterweights to the Constitution’s exclusive grant of military authority to the newly formed federal government. More than 75 federal and state court decisions issued since Miller have affirmed its central premise -- that gun laws are constitutional if they do not impinge upon the "well regulated Militia" that the Second Amendment was written to protect.

While the law in this case is clear, the stakes are high. If the Court adopts the Heller court’s mistaken reinvention of a Second Amendment wholly unrelated to the "well regulated militia" it explicitly references, it could potentially place many life-saving gun laws at risk, including the Brady Law and the Machine Gun Ban. And make no mistake: sensible gun laws save lives. For example, an estimated 1.4 million prohibited purchasers have been turned down in their attempts to buy firearms because of the Brady Law. Not coincidentally, after this law took effect, gun crime declined steadily for the next 10 years.

The language, history, and precedent of the Second Amendment all suggest that the Supreme Court should reverse Heller, and reaffirm the principle that the Constitution does not limit the authority of our elected representatives to enact strong laws to prevent criminals and other dangerous persons from obtaining guns. This is the only solution that is consistent with the clear and intended meaning of the Second Amendment, and will allow the people, not activist judges, to decide what gun laws should be enacted to save lives.