The Times West Virginian

January 27, 2013

Second Amendment: What are limitations?

Times West Virginian

— “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.”

Twenty-seven little words and 1,027 ways to interpret them.

That is the complete text of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.

For about 100 years after ratification, the Second Amendment wasn’t often the topic of debate. And then case after case came before the U.S. Supreme Court. And case after case left justices trying to clarify those 27 words and apply them to modern times.

And case after case found the justices ruling that an individual’s right to keep a weapon is paramount, but it doesn’t mean there are not limitations.

The most recent case, District of Columbia vs. Heller in 2008, is considered landmark. It was the first case in the history of the Bill of Rights to declare that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.

But, again, there are limitations. It was just that the court felt the District of Columbia was infringing on individual rights with a law forbidding handguns in the home and that all guns must be unloaded, disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.

“The requirement that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock makes it impossible for citizens to use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional,” the majority opinion in the case reads.

A triumph for gun-rights supporters, the opinion also includes one very important statement — maybe not as powerful as the text of the Second Amendment, but certainly a clarification of it:

“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

And so, regulations being proposed by President Obama in response to the horrific mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School may not be in line with what people believe and the values they hold; however, it’s not exactly unconstitutional. Well, I take that back. That’s for a court to decide if Congress were to put into law the requirements. The plan includes background checks on all guns sales, reinstating an assault weapons ban, banning high-capacity magazines and armor-piercing bullets, gun trafficking laws and increased access to mental health treatment.

His proposal is getting support, but whether Congress will act on it is another story (and poll question) all together. But we thought we’d throw this question out to our readers who log on to vote at in our online poll question each week.

And here’s what you had to say in response to this question: “Gun control is peaking again as a hot topic of conversation after President Barack Obama presented his administration’s stance last week.What are your thoughts?”

• We have to prevent gun violence and mass killings in this country, and this is a good start — 10.53 percent

• I am a proud gun owner, but who needs assault rifles or high-capacity magazines to hunt or protect their property? — 14.47 percent

• Criminals don’t exactly follow laws. This will just take guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens — 16.23 percent

• My Second Amendment right to bear arms must be respected. You can’t pick and choose which arms are OK and which ones aren’t — 58.77 percent

This is definitely a “to be continued” kind of conversation. We’ll keep our eyes on this issue and continue to discuss it as it evolves. But this week, let’s talk about another controversial issue: The Department of Defense is lifting a ban on women serving in combat positions. Is this something you can support?

Log on. Email me or respond online. Misty Poe

Managing Editor