Skip to Main Content

Gun Laws & 2nd Amendment: Second Amendment

Gun Laws and the 2nd Amendment header

Opinion Databases

Heather Cox Richardson

This opinion piece was written by political historian Heather Cox Richardson after the mass shooting in Boulder Colorado on March 22, 2021

March 23, 2021 (Tuesday) Ten more people in Boulder, Colorado, died yesterday, shot by a man with a gun, just days...

Posted by Heather Cox Richardson on Tuesday, March 23, 2021


Commentary on The Second Amendment

Since the 1930s, the Second Amendment has been used to support the idea that the Constitution guarantees the right of an individual to own guns. Before that time, as since, there were very few cases in law involving the Second Amendment, mainly because there were few laws to control gun ownership. Following gangster activities during the Prohibition era of the 1920s (the period ushered in by the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment), Congress passed the National Firearms Act in 1934. The law taxed and required the registration of automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns. In 1939, in United States v. Miller, the Supreme Court ruled that the National Firearms Act was constitutional. The Second Amendment addresses the right to own guns in the context of a "well regulated Militia." The Court ruled that sawed-off shotguns were not normal militia equipment, and could thus be regulated.

Since then, the Court has refused to address the issue directly, and it has become one of increasing division in the United States. In 1997, the Court overturned part of 1996 gun-control legislation called the Brady Law, but it did so not on Second Amendment grounds but on the basis of state sovereignty: the law required state law-enforcement officials to run background checks on anyone attempting to purchase a gun, and the Court ruled that the federal government could not oblige local officials to do this.

It remains to be seen whether the modern interpretation of the Second Amendment will follow the precedent set in United States v. Miller or stake out new constitutional ground.

Congress, U. S. (1999). The Second Amendment. In American JourneyThe Constitution and Supreme Court. Primary Source Media.