Second Amendment (1791)

This amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms, a right that dates back to England before the Magna Carta. The English Bill of Rights protected the right of Protestants to own and carry weapons, but denied that right to Catholics. During the colonial era, several colonies regulated guns and gun ownership, but the Virginia Declaration of Rights asserted that a well-regulated militia is the natural defense of a free state.

Interpretation of this amendment varies between those who believe it protects an individual right to own guns and those who do not. The Supreme Court has ruled that owning firearms is not an absolute right: it has upheld both federal attempts to regulate certain weapons and states’ power to enact gun control measures.

In 2008, the Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protected the individual right to keep suitable firearms at home for self-defense. The case overturned the District’s law banning virtually all handguns.