This man was a police officer who appealed to the Supreme Court in an attempt to go against the District of Columbia after it refused to give him a registration certificate so that his police-issued handgun could be kept inside his home without a trigger lock.
The Supreme Court sided with Heller and overturned the city-wide ban on handguns as well as the rules regarding weapons in the home (they had to be kept nonfunctional). In doing so, the Court found itself reading the Second Amendment under a different light — one that skewed the original intent of that passage.
For those who need a refresher, the Second Amendment reads: “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.” Pretty straight-forward, no?
If read without much thought, the Second Amendment does, in fact, seem to reference the people of the United States of America’s right to keep and bear arms. But, humor me for a second and read it again. Does something seem off?
The answer is yes. It seems as though the entire construction of the sentence borders on agrammatical (if you will).
It appears the writers wasted hours and hours carving simplistic beauty into the First Amendment and heaved a collective sigh of relief, only to be rudely brought back to reality when someone insisted they needed to write nine more. But it runs deeper than that.
For the longest time, it was simply taken for granted that the Second Amendment was referencing state militias and state militias alone when it recognized the right to keep and bear arms.
“But it says ‘people’! It says ‘the people’! ” you yell as you point out my ignorance. The thing is, when it says “the people,” it is in reference to the people that belong to the militias themselves.
This might be a foreign concept to most, especially taking into consideration the lack of state militias in the modern day. But the fact remains: the ones who drafted these documents wanted to ensure that state rights were upheld. Thus, they passed on the burden of gun regulation in relation to militias to the states themselves. No one else was allowed to have weaponry (at least generally speaking).
Another interesting tidbit about state militias is that people couldn’t just up and make one because they felt like it. Any official militia that would receive support from the Second Amendment had to be state sanctioned. This meant that the state allowed it to exist and regulated it without interference from the Federal Government.
The roots of the modern interpretation of the Second Amendment began with people like Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who pushed a report saying everyone was wrong about the Amendment. Though the biggest backing it received came when the NRA became a political movement seeking less gun control.
Eventually, this ever present and pervasive train of thought became so ingrained in the political mind that the end-goal was achieved.
Even though, time and time again, the original reading of the Second Amendment held up in the Supreme Court, everything changed in 2008.
That year, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court — ignoring hundreds of years and countless precedents (see Presser v. Illinois or Miller v. Texas, for example) — decided that the right to keep and bear arms referred to, well, civilian people.
That year marks the moment when, just through political pressure, the correct and well-known meaning of a part of one of the most important documents in the history of the United States was distorted. Not only that, but every political platform and most citizens accepted this interpretation without a second thought.
This all leads to one inescapable question: what other fabrications could possibly be hidden under the shroud of modern interpretation and political complacency? Sadly, we may never know.