18. August 2014 · Comments Off on 2nd Amendment Jurisprudence in a Post-Heller America · Categories: Court Cases, Policy · Tags: , , , ,

When the Supreme Court makes a ruling, legal reasoning on the subject of that ruling does not stop. Lower courts begin to interpret and apply the precedent, and to shape what that ruling really means. District of Columbia v Heller is no exception. Courts have ruled on 2nd Amendment issues several times in the years since. These rulings are fleshing out a lot of the vague areas of law that the Heller decision did not address.

In both the Heller and McDonald (a case that extended the Heller ruling to the states) opinions there were several regulations mentioned as specifically allowable. A review of post-Heller legal cases found that more than 80% were decided in favor of the challenged gun regulation on the basis of a specific inclusion in the Heller opinion.

Illustration by darktaco at RGB Stock Photos.

Illustration by darktaco at RGB Stock Photos.

Since Heller, this list of “presumptively lawful” regulations has been referred to in cases validating prohibitions on gun sales to users of controlled substances, prohibitions on gun possession by domestic abusers and laws providing for other forms of gun control. However, the list of allowable regulations enumerated in Heller was not intended to be exhaustive, and several courts have had to rule on laws that were not on the list of “presumptively lawful” regulations.

One ruling on these types of regulations occurred as a result to a challenge to New York gun laws prohibiting possession of “assault weapons” (defined by the law in New York in a manner stricter than the norm), expanding background checks and limiting the magazine capacities to a maximum of seven rounds. The court found that the assault weapon ban was reasonably connected to the cause of public safety. It did, however, strike down the capacity limit.

Another ruling in favor of gun regulations occurred as a result of a new challenge to Washington DC’s stringent gun control laws, revised after the Heller decision. This challenge was brought forth by the same man who originally challenged the laws, and has become popularly known as Heller II. In Heller II, the district court ruled that the District’s strict licensing requirements for firearm ownership did not violate the Second Amendment.

There is no clear test for determining the constitutionality of gun control laws. Judges use several tests to determine if a law is unconstitutional, and the one that applies the highest standard is known as “strict scrutiny.” While some courts have applied this test, no gun control laws have been overturned under “strict scrutiny” since Heller.  Instead, courts using this test have allowed for the laws to exist due to public interest as well as “specific tailoring” to classes of people at higher risk for violent behavior.

Judges have used many different tests and forms of logic in determining their rulings post Heller. Without specific guidance from the Supreme Court, it is likely that the nature and limits of Second Amendment rights will continue to be a confusing question for the Federal courts. However, the overall picture painted by the judiciary thus far is that gun control laws in America are almost always constitutional. Many gun rights activists celebrated the decision in Heller, thinking that it might lead to a wave of gun control laws being overturned. Instead, it appears that the decision simply provided a rather high limit on how far gun regulations can go.