Man holding handgun

What is the 2nd Amendment?

The Second Amendment grants the citizens of the United States the right to bear arms.

It’s the subject of considerable debate and is undoubtedly the most controversial amendment in the Constitution. Plenty of people have been arrested either because they took the Second Amendment to mean one thing when their state laws said another, and this can lead to both confiscation of any firearms and need to go through the bail bonds process to get out of jail.

What the Second Amendment really says is that a well-regulated militia is necessary for any free state’s security, and that people’s right to bear arms shouldn’t be infringed. Here’s a more detailed look at rulings and cases related to the Second Amendment.

Theories on What Rights the Second Amendment Protects

The wording of the Second Amendment leaves some of it open to interpretation, and multiple theories have emerged regarding the intent of the Founding Fathers. Some believe that the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to own firearms. Others think that the Second Amendment is for individual state rights, and it’s only providing the right to bear arms to those in their state militias.

The official ruling by the Supreme Court, which occurred during the case of Washington D.C. versus Heller, is that the former theory is correct, and the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to own firearms, regardless of whether that person serves in a militia. Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruled that individuals can use those firearms for self-defense, and that this applies at all levels, which means federal, state and local governments can’t overrule it.

The Heller case focused on gun laws Washington D.C. had at the time. One was a ban on handgun possession. The other was a stipulation that gun owners needed to either keep the triggers on their guns locked while at home, or they needed to have the guns disassembled.

The Supreme Court found both those laws unconstitutional, ruling that they violated the Second Amendment. The handgun ban kept Americans from owning firearms that were often used for self-defense, while the requirement to have guns disassembled or locked rendered those guns completely useless in any self-defense situations.

A similar case occurred in McDonald versus Chicago when the city implemented its own handgun ban for most of its citizens. Again, the court ruled that this ban was unconstitutional.

Each State Has Flexibility Regarding Its Gun Laws

Although cities and states can’t infringe on the right of their citizens to bear arms, they can set up their own gun laws. The result is that gun laws can vary considerably depending on the area.

For example, the right to bear arms allows citizens to own firearms, but it doesn’t necessarily give them a right to carry those firearms around in public places. That depends on the state’s carry laws. Some areas allow open carry, which is when a person carries a gun without concealing it. Some states allow concealed carry, which is when a person carries a gun that they’ve concealed. There are also areas that allow neither or only allows them when the person has a permit.

The firearms people can own also depend on the state. Several states either ban or heavily restrict what they consider assault weapons. California is one example, as it has several restrictions in place regarding the AR-15, a common semiautomatic rifle. There can also be state restrictions on the magazines that citizens can possess. Even though many firearms have standard capacities of 20 to 30 rounds, there are states that classify any magazine that holds over 10 rounds as a high-capacity magazine.

Even though cities and states can set their own gun laws, citizens can challenge these laws in court, just like what happened in Washington D.C. and Chicago with those aforementioned handgun bans.

The Second Amendment may be the subject of much discussion, but the Supreme Court has made it clear that it gives citizens the right to own firearms for self-defense. What each citizen can possess and carry is then determined, to an extent, by where they live.

Read More: Gun Control in California

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