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Right to Bear Arms

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A mere 27 words in the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights somehow manage to incite some of the most heated and occasionally violent debates over two centuries after its drafting. The Second Amendment provides: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Widely divergent contentions emerge from this sentence. Some believe that the Second Amendment provides an absolute, personal right to bear arms. Others argue that any right to bear arms is subordinate to ensuring public safety. A third argument contends that the Second Amendment simply restricts the powers of the national government and grants the states the right to maintain a militia separate from a federally-controlled army.

Most of the controversy surrounding the Second Amendment has arisen in the second half of the twentieth century, although that controversy has been played out much more frequently in the press than in the courts. The Second Amendment has been interpreted in a relatively small number of cases. Nevertheless, the United States Supreme Court has been virtually unwavering in its reading of the amendment. In essence, the Supreme Court historically has defined the Second Amendment as giving states the right to maintain a militia separate from a federally controlled army. The Court has never recognized an individual's unconditional right to own firearms, nor has any lower court so ruled. Courts have consistently held that the state and federal governments may lawfully regulate the sale, transfer, receipt, possession, and use of certain categories of firearms, as well as mandate who may and may not own a gun. Although the National Rifle Association (NRA) has repeatedly referred to a constitutional right to gun ownership, one has never been recognized, nor do the courts show the slightest indication of moving toward such a recognition.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationGreat American Court CasesRight to Bear Arms - Hot Topic, History Of The Right To Bear Arms, Interpretation Of The Second Amendment, Gun Control Legislation