The Most Important Supreme Court Cases About Guns and Gun Rights
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.
- 1309 VOTES
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.
- 2186 VOTES
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.
- 3141 VOTES
Caetano v. Massachusetts
- 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.
- 4209 VOTES
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.
- 5120 VOTES
United States v. Miller
- Year: 1939
- What it did: Upheld the 1934 National Firearms Act, which required that all automatic firearms, short-barreled rifles, and shotguns be registered and required their owners to pay a tax.
- How people reacted: Advocates of stricter gun safety laws used this ruling to pass more restrictions on gun ownership. Gun rights advocates, though, have also used the ruling to argue that citizens have a constitutional right to own military-style weapons.
The Miller decision used a narrow interpretation of the Second Amendment: that the right to bear arms was only protected when citizens were partaking in the state-sanctioned militia. The case concerned Jack Miller, who was charged with violating the 1934 NFA when he transported a shotgun across state lines. Miller claimed the NFA violated his right to bear arms and was unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court disagreed, because the Second Amendment only guarantees the right to bear arms in the context of a militia, and the weapon Miller was caught with would not be useful in a militia.
- 691 VOTES
Presser v. Illinois
- Year: 1886
- What it did: Upheld the conviction of a man who possessed a firearm as a member of a militia group that was not authorized by the state of Illinois.
- How people reacted: At the time it was argued, this case was not thought of in terms of gun rights advocates versus gun control advocates. Presser would be cited in later decisions, but eventually became obsolete because of new rulings.
The ruling in this case was essentially the same as the Cruikshank ruling: the Constitution only forbids the federal government from infringing on people's right to bear arms. It leaves open the door for states to regulate civilian firearm possession. The Court did say, though, that states cannot regulate firearm possession so extensively that there is no longer an armed militia.