Gun rights are an extremely contentious issue in the United States, so there have been a lot of US Supreme Court gun cases. Gun rights advocates typically use the Second Amendment to argue that the right to possess firearms for self-defense is constitutionally protected. However, the Second Amendment was not always interpreted that way. This list contains the most important Supreme Court cases about guns and explains how the high court interpreted the Second Amendment throughout the history of the United States.Many of these Supreme Court cases about guns are complex because they deal with issues other than the right to own a gun. The most important things you should know about each case are detailed below. Consider them, and vote up the rulings about gun rights from the Supreme Court that had the greatest impact on gun legislation.
District of Columbia v. Heller
- Year: 2008
- What it did: Struck down provisions of a District of Columbia law which prohibited people from owning handguns, automatic, and semi-automatic firearms, and required guns in the home to be protected by a trigger lock.
- How people reacted: Wayne La Pierre, representing the NRA, said in response to the ruling that the NRA would promptly file legal challenges against similar laws in Chicago and San Francisco. Paul Helmke, representing the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said he disagreed with the justices' interpretation of the Second Amendment but was glad the ruling "still allows common-sense gun control laws, restrictions to make us all safer."
Heller was the first Supreme Court decision which declared a law unconstitutional solely on the grounds of the Second Amendment. It solidified gun rights advocates' interpretation of the Second Amendment: that an individual civilian's right to own a firearm and use it for self-defense is constitutionally protected.
Voisine v. United States
- Year: 2016
- What it did: Upheld a federal law which prohibits persons with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from owning firearms.
- How people reacted: Ruth Glenn, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, praised the ruling, saying, "Any time there's an act of domestic violence, it's imperative we address it by removing firearms." Erin Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said, "A principle in law is that the punishment should fit the crime. Sadly, permanently disarming Americans for slight infractions that impose no jail time is simply not just."
This court case was filed by two men who had both pleaded guilty to charges of misdemeanor assault against their romantic partners. They argued that they should still be able to own firearms because their cases were for "reckless conduct," not intentional abuse. The Court ruled against them.
Caetano v. Massachusettes
- Year: 2016
- What it did: Overturned the conviction of a woman who carried a stun gun for self-defense.
- How people reacted: The prosecutor and judge in Caetano's criminal case agreed that Caetano should be exonerated from the charges brought against her. However, the statute used to convict her initially remains on the books in Massachusetts.
This case isn't actually about firearms, but it is about the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment can apply to weapons other than those that were available at the time the Constitution was written. This ruling has cast doubt over whether states can ban tasers and other types of weapons which are not firearms.
McDonald v. Chicago
- Year: 2010
- What it did: Struck down a Chicago ordinance which banned handguns.
- How people reacted: After the Court ruled in his favor, the plaintiff in the case said he was happy to be able to purchase a gun "to protect himself from the thugs in his neighborhood." The mayor of Chicago responded to the ruling by saying, "As a city we must continue to stand up...and fight for a ban on assault weapons...as well as crack down on gun shops."
McDonald clarified the ruling of Heller, saying that neither the federal government nor state governments can infringe on individual citizens' right to bear arms. The Chicago ordinance was declared unconstitutional.