Supreme Court Decisions

on the

2nd Amendment


Firearms prohibitionists frequently claim that no federal court has
ever said Americans have an individual constitutional right to arms.
Perhaps such anit-zealots don't consider our U.S. Supreme Court to be

'federal," and so remain ignorant of how it has viewed the issue over
the past century and more.

In statements relating both directly and indirectly to the Second
Amendment right to arms, the Supreme Court has handed down a number of
decisions reaffirming the right  of the individual to bear arms.

*****In l857, the court decided that a slave could not be a citizen
because if he were a citizen, he would be entitled to enjoy all the
rights which American citizens enjoy by reason of their citizenship,
rights which the "courts would be bound to maintain and enforce,"
including the rights 'to hold public meetings upon political affairs,
and to keep and carry arms wherever they went." (Scott v Sandford, 60
US 69l, 705)

*****In l876, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution did not
a right to arms, but that like the rights to assembly and petition,
rights to arms existed long before the Constitution. "Neither is it in
any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence.
" (United
States v Cruikshank, 92 US 542, 553) *****In l886, the
court said that, even setting aside the Second
Amendment, "the states
cannot prohibit the people from keeping and
bearing arms so as to
deprive the United States of their rightful
resource for maintaining the
public security, and disable the people
from performing their duty to
the general government." (Presser v Illinois, 116 US 252)

*****In 1895, the Supreme Court ruled that individuals have a right to
possess and use firearms for self-defense. (Beard v United States, 158

US 550)

*****In 1897, the court ruled that the right to arms is an "ancient"
and "fundamental" right, a right which was "inherited from our English
ancestors" and has existed "from time immemorial." (Robertson v
Baldwin, 165 US 275)

*****In l914, the court ruled by implication that even resident aliens
have the right to possess "weapons such as pistols that may be supposed
to be needed occasionally for self-defense." (Patsone v Pensylvania,
232 US 138)

*****In l921, the Supreme Court decided that a person facing a deadly
attack may use lethal force in his self-defense, adding: "Detached

reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife."
(Brown v United States 256 US 335)

*****In l931, the Supreme court stated that "the great and essential
right of the people are secured against legislative as well as against
executive ambition. They are secured, not by laws paramount to
prerogative, but by constitutions paramount to laws." (Chief Justice
Hughes, quoting James Madison, in Near v Minnesota 283 US 697, 714)


*****In l876, l886. and l939, the Supreme Court ruled that all
able-bodied males are members of the militia. (U.S. v Chruitshank
(l876): Presser v Illinois (l886): U.S. v Miller, 307 US l74 (1939)
(Note: Federal militia law (10 USCS 311) says all able-bodied males aged

17 to 45 are militia members, with those exempted listed in 10 USCS
312. At least 22 states today already include females equally with
males in the militia. The militia, says 10 USCS 311, consists of the

organized militia (the National Guard) and the unorganized or reserve
militia ( all the rest).

*****In l939, the Supreme court ruled that when called for militia duty,
"these men were expected to appear bearing arms supplied by themselves
and of the kind in common use at the time." (U.S. v Miller, 307 US 174)

*****In l943, the court stated that a license fee levied on the exercise
of a constitutional right is prior restraint, the equivalent of is a
flat tax on the exercise of that right, and is therefore
unconstitutional. (Murdock v Pensylvania, 319 US 105. This was a First
Amendment case on freedoms of press and religion.)

*****In l968, the court ruled that a convicted felon is exempt from
obeying gun registration laws, that "a proper claim of the
constitutional privileged against self-incrimination provides a full
defense to prosecutions either for failure to register a firearm....or
for possession of an unregistered firearm." (Haynes v US 390 US 85)

*****The Supreme Court has ruled at least seven times in this
century--in l908, l932, 1936, 1963, l968, l976 and l992 - that the first
eight amendments express fundamental personal rights guaranteed by the
Constitution. (Twining v New Jersey, 211 US 78 (l908), Powell v Alabama,
287 US 45 (1932), Grosian v American Press Co., 297 US 233 (1936),
Gideon v Wainwright, 372 US 335, (1963), Duncan v Louisiana, 391 US 166

(1968), Moore v East Cleveland, 431 US 494 (1976), and Planned
Parenthood v Casey, No 9l-744 (l992); as well as in a concurring opinion
in Griswold v Connecticut 381 US 479 (1965)


*****In l980, the court ruled that a person enjoys a fundamental right
to possess arms until his first conviction for a felony offense. (Lewis
v U.S. 445 US 95)

*****In l990, the Supreme Court ruled that the term "the people"
explicitly as used in the Second and other Amendments, in the Preamble,
and elsewhere in the Constitution, meaning all the individuals who make
up our national community. (U.S. v Verdugo-Urguidez, No. 88-1353)

*****The court stated in l971 and l980 that a federal official who
deprives a citizen of a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution may be
held personally liable for damages (Bivens v Six Unknown Named Agents of
the Federal Bureau of Narcotic, 403 US 388 (1971) and Carlson v Green
446 US 14 (l980)

*****In l99l, the Supreme Court ruled that a state official who, "under
color of state law," deprives a citizen of a right guaranteed by the
federal Constitution may be held personally liable for damages. (Hafer
v Melo, No. 90-68l)

*****In its first truly significant case, the Supreme Court asserted its
power to overturn laws of Congress with the ruling written by our great
Chief Justice John Marshall, which said simply: "All laws repugnant to
the Constitution are null and void." (Marbury v Madison, 5 US 137 (l803)

*****The Court also definitively stated in the middle of this century:
"The United States is entirely a creature of the Constitution. Its
power and authority have no other source. It can only act in accordance
with all the limitations imposed by the Constitution." (Reid v Covert,

354 US l (1957).