The Supreme Court has not heard a case concerning the Second Amendment for nearly a decade, leading Justice Clarence Thomas to deem it a “constitutional orphan.” However, with the retirement of the moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy-and the appointment of the more pro-gun rights Justice Kavanaugh- the high court has now decided to hear a case on firearms. The case concerns a New York City law that prevents a registered gun owner from taking his or her weapon outside city limits. The city has claimed this is a reasonable restriction on a piece of equipment that is capable of easily causing death and injuries on a large scale. However, the petitioners who are filing suit argue that this law is a violation of the Second Amendment. They point to the 2008 Supreme Court case of District of Columbia v. Heller, where the court ruled that the Second Amendment is a protection of the right to self-defense. This right to self-defense should not be restricted because of travel, the petitioners argue. Objective:
- Students will examine how the Supreme Court has previously ruled on issues concerning the Second Amendment
- Students will form their own opinions on the constitutionality of the New York City law
- Handout A: Supreme Court agrees to hear gun rights case after nearly a decade of inaction on Second Amendment
- Handout B: How Has the Second Amendment Been Interpreted?
Warm-up Activity (20 minutes) Directions: Have students read Handout A and answer the following questions:
- What does the New York City law in question require gun owners to do?
- What constitutional principle do the petitioners believe this law violates?
Activity (30 minutes) Directions: Have students read Handout B and use the following questions to lead a class discussion on the constitutionality of the New York City law.
- How has the phrasing of the text of the Second Amendment caused controversy over its meaning?
- Based on your understanding of the text of the Second Amendment and previous Supreme Court rulings, is the New York City law constitutional?
- The Supreme Court’s ruling in the District of Columbia v. Heller initially only applied to the national government, as DC is under federal jurisdiction. In McDonald v. Chicago (2010), the court ruled that the Second Amendment also applied to state and local governments. In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens argued against applying all Bill of Rights provisions to localities, stating, “When a federal court insists that state and local authorities follow its dictates on a matter not critical to personal liberty or procedural justice, the latter may be prevented from engaging in the kind of beneficent ‘experimentation in things social and economic’ that ultimately redounds to the benefit of all Americans.” Should New York City be able to create its own laws concerning gun control that are free from federal interference?
- What are the Origins and Interpretations of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms?
- How Has the Second Amendment been Interpreted?
- District of Columbia v. Heller
- McDonald v. Chicago
Follow-up Activity The Bill of Rights Institute has a platform where students can engage with each other and voice their opinions on current events. This week’s question is: Do Americans have the right to travel with their firearms? Students with the best answers on both sides will win an Amazon gift card, a BRI t-shirt, and be entered for the chance to win a $1,000 scholarship! You can access the platform here.