Second Amendment

A Standard Emerges

District of Columbia v. Heller (2008)

554 U.S. 570 (2008)

Vote: 5-4
Decision: Affirmed
Majority: Scalia, joined by Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito
Dissent: Stevens, joined by Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer

Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court.

The District of Columbia generally prohibits the possession of handguns. It is a crime to carry an unregistered firearm, and the registration of handguns is prohibited. See D. C. Code §§7–2501.01(12), 7–2502.01(a), 7– 2502.02(a)(4) (2001). Wholly apart from that prohibition, no person may carry a handgun without a license, but the chief of police may issue licenses for 1-year periods. See §§22–4504(a), 22–4506. District of Columbia law also requires residents to keep their lawfully owned firearms, such as registered long guns, “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device” unless they are located in a place of business or are being used for lawful recreational activities …

Respondent Dick Heller is a D. C. special police officer authorized to carry a handgun while on duty at the Federal Judicial Center. He applied for a registration certificate for a handgun that he wished to keep at home, but the District refused. He thereafter filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia seeking, on Second Amendment grounds, to enjoin the city from enforcing the bar on the registration of handguns, the licensing requirement insofar as it prohibits the carrying of a firearm in the home without a license, and the trigger-lock requirement insofar as it prohibits the use of “functional firearms within the home.” App. 59a. The District Court dismissed respondent’s complaint, see Parker v. District of Columbia (2004). The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, construing his complaint as seeking the right to render a firearm operable and carry it about his home in that condition only when necessary for self-defense, reversed, see Parker v. District of Columbia (2007). It held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess firearms and that the city’s total ban on handguns, as well as its requirement that firearms in the home be kept nonfunctional even when necessary for self-defense, violated that right …

The Second Amendment is naturally divided into two parts: its prefatory clause and its operative clause. The former does not limit the latter grammatically, but rather announces a purpose. The Amendment could be rephrased, “Because a well-regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Although this structure of the Second Amendment is unique in our Constitution, other legal documents of the founding era, particularly individual-rights provisions of state constitutions, commonly included a prefatory statement of purpose …

Logic demands that there be a link between the stated purpose and the command. The Second Amendment would be nonsensical if it read, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to petition for redress of grievances shall not be infringed.” That requirement of logical connection may cause a prefatory clause to resolve an ambiguity in the operative clause (“The separation of church and state being an important objective, the teachings of canons shall have no place in our jurisprudence.” The preface makes clear that the operative clause refers not to canons of interpretation but to clergymen.) But apart from that clarifying function, a prefatory clause does not limit or expand the scope of the operative clause …

This holding is not only consistent with, but positively suggests, that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to keep and bear arms (though only arms that “have some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia”). Had the Court believed that the Second Amendment protects only those serving in the militia, it would have been odd to examine the character of the weapon rather than simply note that the two crooks were not militiamen …

We conclude that nothing in our precedents forecloses our adoption of the original understanding of the Second Amendment. It should be unsurprising that such a significant matter has been for so long judicially unresolved. For most of our history, the Bill of Rights was not thought applicable to the States, and the Federal Government did not significantly regulate the possession of firearms by law-abiding citizens. Other provisions of the Bill of Rights have similarly remained unilluminated for lengthy periods. This Court first held a law to violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech in 1931, almost 150 years after the Amendment was ratified, see Near v. Minnesota ex rel. Olson (1931), and it was not until after World War II that we held a law invalid under the Establishment Clause, see Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Ed. of School Dist. No. 71, Champaign Cty. (1948). …”[F]or most of our history, the invalidity of Second-Amendment-based objections to firearms regulations has been well settled and uncontroversial.” For most of our history the question did not present itself …”

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. See, e.g., US v. Sheldon (1940) … Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.” We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons …”

It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause. But as we have said, the conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment’s ratification was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty. It may well be true today that a militia, to be as effective as militias in the 18th century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. Indeed, it may be true that no amount of small arms could be useful against modern-day bombers and tanks. But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right.

In sum, we hold that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense. Assuming that Heller is not disqualified from the exercise of Second Amendment rights, the District must permit him to register his handgun and must issue him a license to carry it in the home …

We are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country, and we take seriously the concerns raised by the many amici who believe that prohibition of handgun ownership is a solution. The Constitution leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns … But the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table. These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home. Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.

We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

It is so ordered.

McDonald v. Chicago (2010)

561 U.S. 742 (2010)

Vote: 5-4
Decision: Reversed
Majority: Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy; and Thomas (all except parts II-C, IV and V)
Concurrence: Thomas (in part)
Concurrence: Scalia
Dissent: Stevens
Dissent: Breyer, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor


Two years ago, in District of Columbia v. Heller, (2008), we held that the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense, and we struck down a District of Columbia law that banned the possession of handguns in the home. The city of Chicago (City) and the village of Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, have laws that are similar to the District of Columbia’s, but Chicago and Oak Park argue that their laws are constitutional because the Second Amendment has no application to the States. We have previously held that most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights apply with full force to both the Federal Government and the States. Applying the standard that is well established in our case law, we hold that the Second Amendment right is fully applicable to the States.

After our decision in Heller, the Chicago petitioners and two groups filed suit against the City in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. They sought a declaration that the handgun ban and several related Chicago ordinances violate the Second and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Another action challenging the Oak Park law was filed in the same District Court by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and two Oak Park residents. In addition, the NRA and others filed a third action challenging the Chicago ordinances.

The District Court rejected plaintiffs’ argument that the Chicago and Oak Park laws are unconstitutional. …

The Seventh Circuit affirmed, relying on three 19th-century cases—United States v. Cruikshank,  (1876), Presser v. Illinois,  (1886), and Miller v. Texas,  (1894)—that were decided in the wake of this Court’s interpretation of the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in the Slaughter-House Cases,  (1873) … Nevertheless, the Seventh Circuit observed that it was obligated to follow Supreme Court precedents that have “direct application,” and it declined to predict how the Second Amendment would fare under this Court’s modern “selective incorporation” … We granted certiorari.

The Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment, originally applied only to the Federal Government. In Barron ex rel. Tiernan v. Mayor of Baltimore, (1833) …

The constitutional Amendments adopted in the aftermath of the Civil War fundamentally altered our country’s federal system …

As previously noted, the Seventh Circuit concluded that CruikshankPresser, and Miller doomed petitioners’ claims at the Court of Appeals level. Petitioners argue, however, that we should overrule those decisions and hold that the right to keep and bear arms is one of the “privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” In petitioners’ view, the Privileges or Immunities Clause protects all of the rights set out in the Bill of Rights, as well as some others …

We see no need to reconsider that interpretation here. For many decades, the question of the rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against state infringement has been analyzed under the Due Process Clause of that Amendment and not under the Privileges or Immunities Clause. We therefore decline to disturb the Slaughter-House holding.

At the same time, however, this Court’s decisions in Cruikshank, Presser, and Miller do not preclude us from considering whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment makes the Second Amendment right binding on the States … As explained more fully below, Cruikshank, Presser, and Miller all preceded the era in which the Court began the process of “selective incorporation” under the Due Process Clause, and we have never previously addressed the question whether the right to keep and bear arms applies to the States under that theory …

With this framework in mind, we now turn directly to the question whether the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is incorporated in the concept of due process. In answering that question, as just explained, we must decide whether the right to keep and bear arms is fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty, Duncan [Louisiana (1968)] … or as we have said in a related context, whether this right is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition …” Heller makes it clear that this right is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition …” Founding-era legal commentators confirmed the importance of the right to early Americans …

In Heller, we held that the Second Amendment protects the right to possess a handgun in the home for the purpose of self-defense. Unless considerations of stare decisis counsel otherwise, a provision of the Bill of Rights that protects a right that is fundamental from an American perspective applies equally to the Federal Government and the States. See Duncan … We therefore hold that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amendment right recognized in Heller.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.

It is so ordered.

Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016)

577 U. S. ___ (2016)

Vote: 9-0
Per curiam
Decision: Vacated and remanded
Concurrence: Alito, joined by, Thomas


The Court has held that “the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding,” District of Columbia v. Heller, (2008), and that this “Second Amendment right is fully applicable to the States,” McDonald v. Chicago, (2010). In this case, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld a Massachusetts law prohibiting the possession of stun guns after examining “whether a stun gun is the type of weapon contemplated by Congress in 1789 as being protected by the Second Amendment.” 470 Mass. 774, 777, 26 N. E. 3d 688, 691 (2015).

The court offered three explanations to support its holding that the Second Amendment does not extend to stun guns. First, the court explained that stun guns are not protected because they “were not in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment.” This is inconsistent with Heller’s clear statement that the Second Amendment “extends … to … arms … that were not in existence at the time of the founding.” … The court next asked whether stun guns are “dangerous per se at common law and unusual,” … in an attempt to apply one “important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms,” Heller. (referring to “the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons’”). In so doing, the court concluded that stun guns are “unusual” because they are “a thoroughly modern invention.” By equating “unusual” with “in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment,” the court’s second explanation is the same as the first; it is inconsistent with Heller for the same reason.

Finally, the court used “a contemporary lens” and found “nothing in the record to suggest that [stun guns] are readily adaptable to use in the military.” But Heller rejected the proposition “that only those weapons useful in warfare are protected.” For these three reasons, the explanation the Massachusetts court offered for upholding the law contradicts this Court’s precedent. Consequently, the petition for a writ of certiorari and the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis are granted. The judgment of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts is vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

JUSTICE ALITO, with whom JUSTICE THOMAS joins, concurring in the judgment.

It is settled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms that applies against both the Federal Government and the States. District of Columbia v. Heller (2008); McDonald v. Chicago (2010) … That right vindicates the “basic right” of “individual self-defense.” … Caetano’s encounter with her violent ex-boyfriend illustrates the connection between those fundamental rights: By arming herself, Caetano was able to protect against a physical threat that restraining orders had proved useless to prevent. And, commendably, she did so by using a weapon that posed little, if any, danger of permanently harming either herself or the father of her children …

The Supreme Judicial Court’s conclusion that stun guns are “unusual” rested largely on its premise that one must ask whether a weapon was commonly used in 1789. As already discussed, that is simply wrong …

… Instead, Miller and Heller recognized that militia members traditionally reported for duty carrying “the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home,” and that the Second Amendment therefore protects such weapons as a class, regardless of any particular weapon’s suitability for military use …

As the foregoing makes clear, the pertinent Second Amendment inquiry is whether stun guns are commonly possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes today. The Supreme Judicial Court offered only a cursory discussion of that question, noting that the “‘number of Tasers and stun guns is dwarfed by the number of firearms.’” This observation may be true, but it is beside the point. Otherwise, a State would be free to ban all weapons except handguns, because “handguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home.” Heller

If the fundamental right of self-defense does not protect Caetano, then the safety of all Americans is left to the mercy of state authorities who may be more concerned about disarming the people than about keeping them safe.

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. et al. v. Bruen, Superintendent of New York State Police, et al. (2022)

597 U.S. ___ (2022)

Vote: 6-3
Decision: Reversed and remanded
Majority: Thomas, joined by Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett
Concurrence: Alito
Concurrence: Kavanaugh, joined by Roberts
Concurrence: Barrett
Dissent: Breyer, joined by Sotomayor and Kagan

JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In District of Columbia v. Heller, (2008), and McDonald v. Chicago, (2010), we recognized that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect the right of an ordinary, law-abiding citizen to possess a handgun in the home for self-defense. In this case, petitioners and respondents agree that ordinary, law-abiding citizens have a similar right to carry handguns publicly for their self-defense. We too agree, and now hold, consistent with Heller and McDonald, that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a hand- gun for self-defense outside the home.

The parties nevertheless dispute whether New York’s licensing regime respects the constitutional right to carry handguns publicly for self-defense. In 43 States, the government issues licenses to carry based on objective criteria. But in six States, including New York, the government further conditions issuance of a license to carry on a citizen’s showing of some additional special need. Because the State of New York issues public-carry licenses only when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense, we conclude that the State’s licensing regime violates the Constitution.

New York State has regulated the public carry of hand- guns at least since the early 20th century … Today’s licensing scheme largely tracks that of the early

1900s. It is a crime in New York to possess “any firearm” without a license, whether inside or outside the home, punishable by up to four years in prison or a $5,000 fine for a felony offense, and one year in prison or a $1,000 fine for a misdemeanor. See N. Y. Penal Law Ann. §§265.01–b (West 2017), 261.01(1) (West Cum. Supp. 2022), 70.00(2)(e) and (3)(b), 80.00(1)(a) (West 2021), 70.15(1), 80.05(1).   Meanwhile, possessing a loaded firearm outside one’s home or place of business without a license is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. §§265.03(3) (West 2017), 70.00(2)(c) and (3)(b), 80.00(1)(a).

A license applicant who wants to possess a firearm at home (or in his place of business) must convince a “licensing officer”—usually a judge or law enforcement officer—that, among other things, he is of good moral character, has no history of crime or mental illness, and that “no good cause exists for the denial of the license.” §§400.00(1)(a)–(n) (West Cum. Supp. 2022). If he wants to carry a firearm outside his home or place of business for self-defense, the applicant must obtain an unrestricted license to “have and carry” a concealed “pistol or revolver.” §400.00(2)(f ). To secure that license, the applicant must prove that “proper cause exists” to issue it. Ibid. If an applicant cannot make that showing, he can receive only a “restricted” license for public carry, which allows him to carry a firearm for a limited purpose, such as hunting, target shooting, or employment.

No New York statute defines “proper cause.” But New York courts have held that an applicant shows proper cause only if he can “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.” E.g., In re Klenosky (1980) … When a licensing officer denies an application, judicial re- view is limited …

New York is not alone in requiring a permit to carry a handgun in public. But the vast majority of States—43 by our count—are “shall issue” jurisdictions, where authorities must issue concealed-carry licenses whenever applicants satisfy certain threshold requirements, without granting licensing officials discretion to deny licenses based on a perceived lack of need or suitability. Meanwhile, only six States and the District of Columbia have “may issue” licensing laws, under which authorities have discretion to deny concealed-carry licenses even when the applicant satisfies the statutory criteria, usually because the applicant has not demonstrated cause or suitability for the relevant license. Aside from New York, then, only California, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have analogues to the “proper cause” standard. All of these “proper cause” analogues have been upheld by the Courts of Appeals, save for the District of Columbia’s, which has been permanently enjoined since 2017 …

… Brandon Koch and Robert Nash are law-abiding, adult citizens of Rensselaer County, New York …

In 2014, Nash applied for an unrestricted license to carry a handgun in public. Nash did not claim any unique danger to his personal safety; he simply wanted to carry a handgun for self-defense. In early 2015, the State denied Nash’s ap- plication for an unrestricted license but granted him a restricted license for hunting and target shooting only. In late 2016, Nash asked a licensing officer to remove the restrictions, citing a string of recent robberies in his neighborhood. After an informal hearing, the licensing officer denied the request … Between 2008 and 2017, Koch was in the same position as Nash … In late 2017, Koch applied to … remove the restrictions on his license … Like Nash’s application, Koch’s was denied, except that the officer permitted Koch to “carry to and from work.” App., at 114.

… Petitioners sued respondents for declaratory and injunctive relief under Rev. Stat. 1979, 42 U. S. C. §1983, alleging that respondents violated their Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights by denying their unrestricted- license applications on the basis that they had failed to show “proper cause,” i.e., had failed to demonstrate a unique need for self-defense.

The District Court dismissed petitioners’ complaint and the Court of Appeals affirmed. See 818 Fed. Appx. 99, 100 (CA2 2020).

We granted certiorari to decide whether New York’s denial of petitioners’ license applications violated the Constitution. (2021).

In Heller and McDonald, we held that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense. In doing so, we held unconstitutional two laws that prohibited the possession and use of handguns in the home. In the years since, the Courts of Appeals have coalesced around a “two-step” framework for analyzing Second Amendment challenges that combines history with means-end scrutiny.

Today, we decline to adopt that two-part approach. In keeping with Heller, we hold that when the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct. To justify its regulation, the government may not simply posit that the regulation promotes an important interest. Rather, the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. Only if a firearm regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s “unqualified command.” Konigsberg v. State Bar of Cal., (1961).

Despite the popularity of this two-step approach, it is one step too many. Step one of the predominant framework is broadly consistent with Heller, which demands a test rooted in the Second Amendment’s text, as informed by history. But Heller and McDonald do not support applying means- end scrutiny in the Second Amendment context. Instead,  the government must affirmatively prove that its firearms regulation is part of the historical tradition that delimits the outer bounds of the right to keep and bear arms.

To show why Heller does not support applying means-end scrutiny, we first summarize Heller’s methodological approach to the Second Amendment.

In Heller, we began with a “textual analysis” focused on the “‘normal and ordinary’” meaning of the Second Amendment’s language, at 576–577, 578.. That analysis suggested that the Amendment’s operative clause—“the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed”—“guarantee[s] the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation” that does not de- pend on service in the militia. Id., at 592.

From there, we assessed whether our initial conclusion was “confirmed by the historical background of the Second Amendment.” Ibid.  We looked to history because “it has always been widely understood that the Second Amendment … codified a pre-existing right.” Ibid … After surveying English history dating from the late 1600s, along with American colonial views leading up to the founding, we found “no doubt, on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms.” Id., at 595.

We then canvassed the historical record and found yet further confirmation …

In assessing the postratification history, we looked to four different types of sources. First, we reviewed “[t]hree important founding-era legal scholars [who] interpreted the Second Amendment in published writings.” Ibid. Second, we looked to “19th-century cases that interpreted the Second Amendment” and found that they “universally support an individual right” to keep and bear arms. Id., at 610.  Third, we examined the “discussion of the Second Amendment in Congress and in public discourse” after the Civil War, “as people debated whether and how to secure constitutional rights for newly freed slaves.” Id., at 614. Fourth, we considered how post-Civil War commentators under- stood the right. See id., at 616–619.

After holding that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to armed self-defense, we also relied on the historical understanding of the Amendment to demark the limits on the exercise of that right. We noted that, “[l]ike most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” Id., at 626 …

As the foregoing shows, Heller’s methodology centered on constitutional text and history. Whether it came to defining the character of the right (individual or militia dependent), suggesting the outer limits of the right, or assessing the constitutionality of a particular regulation, Heller relied on text and history. It did not invoke any means-end test such as strict or intermediate scrutiny …

In sum, the Courts of Appeals’ second step is inconsistent with Heller’s historical approach and its rejection of means- end scrutiny. We reiterate that the standard for applying the Second Amendment is as follows: When the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct. The government must then justify its regulation by demonstrating that it is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. Only then may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s “unqualified command.” Konigsberg, at 50, n. 10.

This Second Amendment standard accords with how we protect other constitutional rights. Take, for instance, the freedom of speech in the First Amendment … In some cases, that burden includes showing whether the expressive con- duct falls outside of the category of protected speech. See Illinois ex rel. Madigan v. Telemarketing Associates, Inc., 620, n. 9 (2003). And to carry that burden, the government must generally point to historical evidence about the reach of the First Amendment’s protections …

And beyond the freedom of speech, our focus on history also comports with how we assess many other constitutional claims … To be sure, “[h]istorical analysis can be difficult; it some- times requires resolving threshold questions, and making nuanced judgments about which evidence to consult and how to interpret it.” McDonald, at 803–804  (Scalia, J., concurring). But reliance on history to inform the meaning of constitutional text—especially text meant to codify a pre-existing right—is, in our view, more legitimate, and more administrable, than asking judges to “make difficult empirical judgments” about “the costs and benefits of firearms restrictions,” especially given their “lack [of] expertise” in the field. Id., at 790–791 (plurality opinion).

If the last decade of Second Amendment litigation has taught this Court anything, it is that federal courts tasked with making such difficult empirical judgments regarding firearm regulations under the banner of “intermediate scrutiny” often defer to the determinations of legislatures. But while that judicial deference to legislative interest balancing is understandable—and, elsewhere, appropriate—it is not deference that the Constitution demands here. The Second Amendment “is the very product of an interest balancing by the people” and it “surely elevates above all other interests the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms” for self-defense. Heller, at 635. It is this balance—struck by the traditions of the American people—that demands our unqualified deference.

The test that we set forth in Heller and apply today re- quires courts to assess whether modern firearms regulations are consistent with the Second Amendment’s text and historical understanding. In some cases, that inquiry will be fairly straightforward …

While the historical analogies here and in Heller are relatively simple to draw, other cases implicating unprecedented societal concerns or dramatic technological changes may require a more nuanced approach. The regulatory  challenges posed by firearms today are not always the same as those that preoccupied the Founders in 1791 or the Re- construction generation in 1868. Fortunately, the Founders created a Constitution—and a Second Amendment— “intended to endure for ages to come, and consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs.” McCulloch v. Maryland, (1819). Although its meaning is fixed according to the understandings of those who ratified it, the Constitution can, and must, apply to circumstances beyond those the Founders specifically anticipated. See, e.g., United States v. Jones, 404–405 (2012).

We have already recognized in Heller at least one way in which the Second Amendment’s historically fixed meaning applies to new circumstances: Its reference to “arms” does not apply “only [to] those arms in existence in the 18th century.” at 582 … Thus, even though the Second Amendment’s definition of “arms” is fixed according to its historical understanding, that general definition covers modern instruments that facilitate armed self-defense. Cf. Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016) …

Much like we use history to determine which modern “arms” are protected by the Second Amendment, so too does history guide our consideration of modern regulations that were unimaginable at the founding. When confronting such present-day firearm regulations, this historical inquiry that courts must conduct will often involve reasoning by analogy—a commonplace task for any lawyer or judge …

To be clear, analogical reasoning under the Second Amendment is neither a regulatory straightjacket nor a regulatory blank check. On the one hand, courts should not “uphold every modern law that remotely resembles a historical analogue,” because doing so “risk[s] endorsing outliers that our ancestors would never have accepted.” Drummond v. Robinson (CA3 2021). On the other hand, analogical reasoning requires only that the government identify a well-established and representative historical analogue, not a historical twin. So even if a modern- day regulation is not a dead ringer for historical precursors, it still may be analogous enough to pass constitutional muster …

Having made the constitutional standard endorsed in Heller more explicit, we now apply that standard to New York’s proper-cause requirement.

It is undisputed that petitioners Koch and Nash—two ordinary, law-abiding, adult citizens—are part of “the people” whom the Second Amendment protects. See Heller, at 580. Nor does any party dispute that handguns are weapons “in common use” today for self-defense. See id., at 627; see also Caetano, at 411–412. We therefore turn to whether the plain text of the Second Amendment protects Koch’s and Nash’s proposed course of conduct—carrying handguns publicly for self-defense.

We have little difficulty concluding that it does … Nothing in the Second Amendment’s text draws a home/public distinction with respect to the right to keep and bear arms. As we explained in Heller, the “textual elements” of the Second Amendment’s operative clause— “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”—“guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.” at 592. Heller further confirmed that the right to “bear arms” refers to the right to “wear, bear, or carry … upon the person or in the clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose … of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person.” Id., at 584 … This  definition  of “bear”  naturally  encompasses public carry … To confine the right to “bear” arms to the home would nullify half of the Second Amendment’s operative protections.

Moreover, confining the right to “bear” arms to the home would make little sense given that self-defense is “the central component of the [Second Amendment] right itself.” Heller, at 599; see also McDonald, at 767. After all, the Second Amendment guarantees an “in- dividual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation,” Heller, at 592, and confrontation can surely take place outside the home …

The Second Amendment’s plain text thus presumptively guarantees petitioners Koch and Nash a right to “bear” arms in public for self-defense.

Conceding that the Second Amendment guarantees a general right to public carry, contra, Young, 992 F. 3d, at 813, respondents instead claim that the Amendment “permits a State to condition handgun carrying in areas ‘frequented by the general public’ on a showing of a non- speculative need for armed self-defense in those areas,” Brief for Respondents … To support that claim, the burden falls on respondents to show that New York’s proper-cause requirement is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. Only if respondents carry that burden can they show that the pre-existing right codified in the Second Amendment, and made applicable to the States through the Fourteenth, does not protect petitioners’ proposed course of conduct …

Throughout modern Anglo-American history, the right to keep and bear arms in public has traditionally been subject to well-defined restrictions governing the intent for which one could carry arms, the manner of carry, or the exceptional circumstances under which one could not carry arms. But apart from a handful of late-19th-century jurisdictions, the historical record compiled by respondents does not demonstrate a tradition of broadly prohibiting the public carry of commonly used firearms for self-defense. Nor is there any such historical tradition limiting public carry only to those law-abiding citizens who demonstrate a special need for self-defense. We conclude that respondents have failed to meet their burden to identify an American tradition justifying New York’s proper- cause requirement. Under Heller’s text-and-history standard, the proper-cause requirement is therefore unconstitutional …

We interpret the English history that respondents and the United States muster in light of these interpretive principles. We find that history ambiguous at best and see little reason to think that the Framers would have thought it applicable in the New World. It is not sufficiently probative to defend New York’s proper-cause requirement …

At the very least, we cannot conclude from this historical record that, by the time of the founding, English law would have justified restricting the right to publicly bear arms suited for self-defense only to those who demonstrate some special need for self-protection.

Respondents next point us to the history of the Colonies and early Republic, but there is little evidence of an early American practice of regulating public carry by the general public. This should come as no surprise—English subjects founded the Colonies at about the time England had itself begun to eliminate restrictions on the ownership and use of handguns …

Regardless, even if respondents’ reading of these colonial statutes were correct, it would still do little to support restrictions on the public carry of handguns today. At most, respondents can show that colonial legislatures sometimes prohibited the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons”—a fact we already acknowledged in Heller. Drawing from this historical tradition, we explained there that the Second Amendment protects only the carrying of weapons that are those “in common use at the time,” as opposed to those that “are highly unusual in society at large.” Ibid … Thus, even if these colonial laws prohibited the carrying of handguns because they were considered “dangerous and unusual weapons” in the 1690s, they provide no justification for laws restricting the public carry of weapons that are unquestionably in common use today … Thus,  all told, in the century leading up to the Second Amendment and in the first decade after its adoption, there is no historical basis for concluding that the pre-existing right enshrined in the Second Amendment permitted broad prohibitions on all forms of public carry …

Only after the ratification of the Second Amendment in 1791 did public-carry restrictions proliferate. Respondents rely heavily on these restrictions, which generally fell into three categories: common-law offenses, statutory prohibitions, and “surety” statutes. None of these restrictions im- posed a substantial burden on public carry analogous to the burden created by New York’s restrictive licensing regime. Common-Law Offenses

To summarize: The historical evidence from antebellum America does demonstrate that the manner of public carry was subject to reasonable regulation. Under the common law, individuals could not carry deadly weapons in a manner likely to terrorize others. Similarly, although surety statutes did not directly restrict public carry, they did pro- vide financial incentives for responsible arms carrying. Finally, States could lawfully eliminate one kind of public carry—concealed carry—so long as they left open the option to carry openly.

None of these historical limitations on the right to bear arms approach New York’s proper-cause requirement be- cause none operated to prevent law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from carrying arms in public for that purpose …

Evidence from around the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment also fails to support respondents’ position …

In the end, while we recognize the support that postbellum Texas provides for respondents’ view, we will not give disproportionate weight to a single state statute and a pair of state-court decisions. As in Heller, we will not “stake our interpretation of the Second Amendment upon a single law, in effect in a single [State], that contradicts the overwhelming weight of other evidence regarding the right to keep and bear arms for defense” in public. At 632.

Finally, respondents point to the slight uptick in gun regulation during the late-19th century—principally in the Western Territories. As we suggested in Heller, however, late-19th-century evidence cannot provide much insight into the meaning of the Second Amendment when it contradicts earlier evidence. See id., at 614 …

At the end of this long journey through the Anglo-American history of public carry, we conclude that respondents have not met their burden to identify an American tradition justifying the State’s proper-cause requirement. The Second Amendment guaranteed to “all Americans” the right to bear commonly used arms in public subject to certain reasonable, well-defined restrictions. Heller. Those restrictions, for example, limited the intent for which one could carry arms, the manner by which one carried arms, or the exceptional circumstances under which one could not carry arms, such as before justices of the peace and other government officials. Apart from a few late-19th- century outlier jurisdictions, American governments simply have not broadly prohibited the public carry of commonly used firearms for personal defense. Nor, subject to a few late-in-time outliers, have American governments required law-abiding, responsible citizens to “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community” in order to carry arms in public. Klenosky.

The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self- defense is not “a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.” McDonald, at 780. We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government  officers some special need. That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him. And it is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self-defense.

New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment in that it prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Justice Breyer, with whom Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan join, dissenting.

In 2020, 45,222 Americans were killed by firearms. See Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fast Facts: Firearm Violence Prevention (last updated May 4, 2022) (CDC, Fast Facts), firearms/fastfact.html. Since the start of this year (2022), there have been 277 reported mass shootings—an average of more than one per day. See Gun Violence Archive (last visited June 20, 2022), https://www.gunviolence Gun violence has now surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents. J. Goldstick, R. Cunningham, & P. Carter, Current Causes of Death in Children and Adolescents in the United States, 386 New England J. Med. 1955 (May 19, 2022) (Goldstick).

Many States have tried to address some of the dangers of gun violence just described by passing laws that limit, in various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms of different kinds.   The Court today severely burdens States’ efforts to do so. It invokes the Second Amendment to strike down a New York law regulating the public carriage of concealed handguns. In my view, that decision rests upon several serious mistakes …

First, the Court decides this case on the basis of the pleadings, without the benefit of discovery or an evidentiary record. As a result, it may well rest its decision on a mistaken understanding of how New York’s law operates in practice. Second, the Court wrongly limits its analysis to focus nearly exclusively on history. It refuses to consider the government interests that justify a challenged gun regulation, regardless of how compelling those interests may be. The Constitution contains no such limitation, and neither do our precedents. Third, the Court itself demonstrates the practical problems with its history-only approach. In applying that approach to New York’s law, the Court fails to correctly identify and analyze the relevant historical facts. Only by ignoring an abundance of historical evidence supporting regulations restricting the public carriage of firearms can the Court conclude that New York’s law is not “consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” See ante, at 15.

In my view, when courts interpret the Second Amendment, it is constitutionally proper, indeed often necessary, for them to consider the serious dangers and consequences of gun violence that lead States to regulate firearms. The Second Circuit has done so and has held that New York’s law does not violate the Second Amendment. See Kachalsky v. County of Westchester (2012). I would affirm that holding. At a minimum, I would not strike down the law based only on the pleadings, as the Court does today—without first allowing for the development of an evidentiary record and without considering the State’s compelling interest in preventing gun violence. I  respectfully dissent.

How does the Court justify striking down New York’s law without first considering how it actually works on the ground and what purposes it serves? The Court does so by purporting to rely nearly exclusively on history. It requires “the government [to] affirmatively prove that its firearms regulation is part of the historical tradition that delimits the outer bounds of ‘the right to keep and bear arms.’” Ante, at 10. Beyond this historical inquiry, the Court refuses to employ what it calls “means-end scrutiny.” Ibid.  That is, it refuses to consider whether New York has a compelling interest in regulating the concealed carriage of handguns or whether New York’s law is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. Although I agree that history can often be a useful tool in determining the meaning and scope of constitutional provisions, I believe the Court’s near-exclusive reliance on that single tool today goes much too far.

The Court concedes that no Court of Appeals has adopted its rigid history-only approach. See ante, at 8. To the contrary, every Court of Appeals to have addressed the question has agreed on a two-step framework for evaluating whether a firearm regulation is consistent with the Second Amendment. Ibid.; ante, at 10, n. 4 (majority opinion) (listing cases from the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and D. C. Circuits) …

The Court today replaces the Courts of Appeals’ consensus framework with its own history-only approach. That is unusual. We do not normally disrupt settled consensus  among the Courts of Appeals, especially not when that consensus approach has been applied without issue for over a decade. See Brief for Second Amendment Law Professors as Amici Curiae 4, 13–15; see also this Court’s Rule 10. The Court attempts to justify its deviation from our normal practice by claiming that the Courts of Appeals’ approach is inconsistent with Heller. See ante, at 10. In doing so, the Court implies that all 11 Courts of Appeals that have considered this question misread Heller

To the contrary, it is this Court that misreads Heller. The opinion in Heller did focus primarily on “constitutional text and history,” ante, at 13 (majority opinion), but it did not “rejec[t] … means-end scrutiny,” as the Court claims, ante, at 15. Consider what the Heller Court actually said … The Heller Court concluded that the Second Amendment’s text and history were sufficiently clear to resolve that question: The Second Amendment, it said, does include such an individual right. Id., at 579–619. There was thus no need for the Court to go further—to look beyond text and history, or to suggest what analysis would be appropriate in other cases where the text and history are not clear.

But the Heller Court did not end its opinion with that preliminary question. After concluding that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm for self-defense, the Heller Court added that that right is “not unlimited.” Id., at 626.  It thus had to determine whether the District of Columbia’s law, which banned handgun possession in the home, was a permissible regulation of the right. Id., at 628–630. In answering that second question, it said: “Under any of the standards of scrutiny that we have applied to enumerated constitutional rights, banning from the home ‘the most preferred firearm in the nation to “keep” and use for protection of one’s home and family’ would fail constitutional muster.” Id., at 628–629 (emphasis added; footnote and citation omitted). That language makes clear that the Heller Court understood some form of means-end scrutiny to apply. It did not need to specify whether that scrutiny should be intermediate or strict because, in its view, the District’s handgun ban was so “severe” that it would have failed either level of scrutiny. Id., at 628–629; see also id., at 628, n. 27 (clarifying that rational-basis review was not the proper level of scrutiny).

Despite Heller’s express invocation of means-end scrutiny, the Court today claims that the majority in Heller rejected means-end scrutiny because it rejected my dissent in that case. But that argument misreads both my dissent and the majority opinion. My dissent in Heller proposed directly weighing “the interests protected by the Second Amendment on one side and the governmental public-safety concerns on the other.” Id., at 689.  I would have asked “whether the statute burdens a protected interest in a way or to an extent that is out of proportion to the statute’s salutary effects upon other important governmental interests.”  Id., at 689–690 …

As Heller’s First Amendment example illustrates, the Court today is wrong when it says that its rejection of means-end scrutiny and near-exclusive focus on history “ac- cords with how we protect other constitutional rights.” Ante, at 15. As the Court points out, we do look to history in the First Amendment context to determine “whether the expressive conduct falls outside of the category of protected speech.” Ibid. But, if conduct falls within a category of protected speech, we then use means-end scrutiny to deter- mine whether a challenged regulation unconstitutionally burdens that speech …

The Court’s near-exclusive reliance on history is not only unnecessary, it is deeply impractical. It imposes a task on the lower courts that judges cannot easily accomplish. Judges understand well how to weigh a law’s objectives (its “ends”) against the methods used to achieve those objectives (its “means”). Judges are far less accustomed to resolving difficult historical questions. Courts are, after all, staffed by lawyers, not historians … The Court’s past experience with historical analysis should serve as a warning against relying exclusively, or nearly exclusively, on this mode of analysis in the future.

Failing to heed that warning, the Court today does just that. Its near-exclusive reliance on history will pose a number of practical problems. First, the difficulties attendant  to extensive historical analysis will be especially acute in the lower courts. The Court’s historical analysis in this case is over 30 pages long and reviews numerous original sources from over 600 years of English and American his- tory. Ante, at 30–62.  Lower courts—especially district courts—typically have fewer research resources, less assistance from amici historians, and higher caseloads than we do.  They are therefore ill equipped to conduct the type of searching historical surveys that the Court’s approach requires … Second, the Court’s opinion today compounds these problems, for it gives the lower courts precious little guidance regarding how to resolve modern constitutional questions based  almost  solely  on  history … Third, even under ideal conditions, historical evidence will often fail to provide clear answers to difficult questions … Fourth, I fear that history will be an especially inadequate tool when it comes to modern cases presenting mod- ern problems … This problem is all the more acute when it comes to “modern-day circumstances that [the Framers] could not have anticipated.” Heller, at 721–722 (BREYER, J., dissenting) …

Although I hope—fervently—that future courts will be able to identify historical analogues supporting the validity of regulations that address new technologies, I fear that it will often prove difficult to identify analogous technological and social problems from Medieval England, the founding era, or the time period in which the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified. Laws addressing  repeating  crossbows, launcegays, dirks, dagges, skeines, stilladers, and other ancient weapons will be of little help to courts confronting modern problems.  And as technological progress pushes our society ever further beyond the bounds of the Framers’ imaginations, attempts at “analogical reasoning” will be- come increasingly tortured. In short, a standard that relies solely on history is unjustifiable and unworkable …

We are bound by Heller insofar as Heller interpreted the Second Amendment to protect an individual right to possess a firearm for self-defense. But Heller recognized that that right was not without limits and could appropriately be subject to government regulation. at 626–627. Heller therefore does not require holding that New York’s law violates the Second Amendment. In so holding, the Court goes beyond Heller.

It bases its decision to strike down New York’s law almost exclusively on its application of what it calls historical “analogical reasoning.” Ante, at 19–20.  As I have admitted above, I am not a historian, and neither is the Court. But the history, as it appears to me, seems to establish a robust tradition of regulations restricting the public carriage of concealed firearms. To the extent that any uncertainty re- mains between the Court’s view of the history and mine, that uncertainty counsels against relying on history alone. In my view, it is appropriate in such circumstances to look beyond the history and engage in what the Court calls means-end scrutiny.

Courts must be permitted to consider the State’s interest in preventing gun violence, the effectiveness of the contested law in achieving that interest, the degree to which the law burdens the Second Amendment right, and, if appropriate, any less restrictive alternatives.

The Second Circuit has previously done just that, and it held that New York’s law does not violate the Second Amendment.


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