Justice Breyer's Triumph in the Third Battle Over the Second Amendment
61 Pages Posted: 3 May 2012
Date Written: May 3, 2012
In recent years, the Supreme Court has issued two landmark decisions about the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. District of Columbia v. Heller rejected the notion that the Second Amendment protects only organized militia activities, and McDonald v. City of Chicago found that the right to keep and bear arms applies to state and local governments via incorporation into the Fourteenth Amendment. Those decisions left important questions unanswered. In particular, the Supreme Court declined to specify what level of scrutiny or test should be used to assess the validity of gun laws. Lower courts are now wrestling with that crucial issue. Examining the decisions made so far, this Article argues that the third phase of the fight over the right to keep and bear arms is moving toward an unusual result. The lower court decisions reflect the pragmatic sentiments of Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinions in Heller and McDonald. Frustrated by the predominantly historical approach and the puzzling categorizations suggested by Justice Scalia and the other members of the Heller and McDonald majorities, the lower courts have focused on contemporary public policy interests and applied a form of intermediate scrutiny that is highly deferential to legislative determinations and leads to all but the most drastic restrictions on guns being upheld. Justice Breyer thus stands poised to achieve an unexpected triumph despite having come out on the losing side of both of the Supreme Court’s recent clashes over the right to keep and bear arms.
Keywords: Second Amendment, guns, gun control, Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer, Heller, McDonald, keep and bear arms, gun rights
JEL Classification: K00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation