In the wake of the shooting tragedy that killed 26 people, including 20
children, at Newtown, Connecticut a week ago, talk is raging about new
laws designed to limit the kinds of weapons people can buy. Also under
consideration are laws requiring investigation of gun purchasers'
mental stability before guns are sold. Whatever legislation is passed,
and it seems that the mood is now to pass some gun control measures, it
will ultimately face constitutional challenges in the courts.
What is the current status of the right to bear arms under the second amendment
to our constitution? You may remember the Supreme Court's 2008 decision
upholding the second amendment's right to bear arms. What you may
not remember is that the decision applied only to the right to defend
one's own home. The holding was limited to the right of a person to
own a gun to defend his castle. And Justice Scalia, arguably the court's
most conservative member, clearly stated in the decision that ownership
of guns, like other constitutional rights, has limits. He did not further
It is likely that the court's next review will be over the issue of
whether people have the right to be armed in public. That is, state laws
permitting people to carry concealed weapons in public are likely to be
before the court. Whether the second amendment confers the right to carry
a concealed weapon has not been decided by the Supreme Court.
A recent federal court ruling in Illinois sets the stage for Supreme Court
review. That court in Chicago struck down Illinois' law banning concealed
weapons. Since that ruling is at odds with the decisions of a number of
other federal courts that have mostly upheld state and local gun laws,
the Supreme Court is likely to hear the issue and decide the law of the
land. The court may be influenced by the emotionally-charged atmosphere
following the Connecticut massacre.