Justices: Gun Right Guaranteed to Individuals The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Second Amendment of the Constitution guarantees an individual right to bear arms. That's a huge shift in constitutional law; it's been almost 70 years since the high court ruled on the amendment. The decision came in a challenge to Washington, D.C.'s gun ban.


Renee Montagne and Ari Shapiro Discuss the Ruling on 'Morning Edition'

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Let's hear more now about this morning's Supreme Court decision on gun ownership. Moments ago, the court ruled that the Second Amendment of the Constitution guarantees an individual right to bear arms. That's a huge shift in Constitutional law. It's the first time ever the Supreme Court has unequivocally taken this position on the Second Amendment. The decision came in a challenge to Washington, DC's gun ban. NPR's justice correspondent, and this week you're hearing him co-host with on MORNING EDITION, but Ari Shapiro, justice correspondent has been reviewing the ruling. And Ari, what did the court say?


Well, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion for himself and four other justices. And it says the Constitution does not allow, quote, "The absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self defense in the home." In the Second Amendment, he and the justices who agreed with him in this case clearly saw an individual right to own an gun, whereas the four more liberal justices led by John Paul Stevens, he said that the majority opinion, quote, "Would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons," talking about the fact that in DC, the place where this challenge came from, the gun law that has now been stricken down today was created to curb a real violence problem. And he says it would be crazy to think that the framers wanted to limit the ability of elected officials to limit that kind of violence.

MONTAGNE: Now, a divided court, and you suggested some reasons for the division. But what else about this disagreement?

SHAPIRO: Well, it was a clearly ideological court, the kind of decision we have seen many, many times in the last couple of years. It was a 5-4 ruling, the more conservative justices on the one side, the more liberal justices on the other. So in addition to Justice Antonin Scalia writing the majority opinion, he was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy -who is sometimes the swing voter - and also Justice Samuel Alito. On the other side was Justice Stevens. You had the more liberal Justices Souter, Ginsberg and Breyer.

MONTAGNE: The Supreme Court has really staked out a new position here. Put this in context for us.

SHAPIRO: Right. It's hard to overstate the significance of this. Since the Second Amendment was added to the Constitution, the Supreme Court has never said whether it talks about militias or individuals. It's a very short amendment. I'll read it here.

It says a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. It's been almost 70 years since the Supreme Court heard any kind of case addressing the Second Amendment. And in the that decision nearly 70 years ago, the justices suggested that it was a collective right rather than an individual right to own weapons. And that was the widely accepted opinion among judges and academics for most of the 20th century. This marks a huge shift, that in some respects, reflects a shift among academics as well, but more significantly shows that the court has really declared firmly here it's an individual right, not a collective right.

MONTAGNE: So it suggests restrictions are possible on gun laws around the country.

SHAPIRO: Right. And the question is what gun laws will stand and which ones will fail. There's a quote from the opinion here, that Justice Scalia said nothing in his ruling should, quote, "Cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places, such as schools and government buildings." But there's some space there between those federal laws that are upheld and the DC law that was stricken down. And so individual laws across the country may have to be litigated on a case-by-case basis after today's ruling.

MONTAGNE: Ari, thanks very much. I'm talking to you later in the show.

SHAPIRO: Talk you later, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's justice correspondent Ari Shapiro, also the co-host on MORNING EDITION this week.

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