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Judge Greg Galler on Guns and the US Constitution

What constitutional rights do citizens have regarding firearms? Can the government deny individual citizens the reasonable right to the use of firearms for lawful purposes? These issues revolve around the meaning of the words of the Second Amendment.

The recent heartbreaking murders of school children in Connecticut have prompted a lot of discussion regarding guns and the rights of citizens to own, possess, or use them.

What constitutional rights do citizens have regarding firearms?

Can the government deny individual citizens the reasonable right to the use of firearms for lawful purposes?

These issues revolve around the meaning of the words of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

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.”

What do these words mean? What is the law of the land?

I do not propose to offer any opinions about which policies should be chosen, but instead to provide a brief outline on the current state of the law.

The final authority on the meaning of the U.S. Constitution belongs with the U.S. Supreme Court. Famed Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once quipped, “We’re not final because we’re infallible, we’re infallible because we’re final.”

In cases decided in 2008 and 2010, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that the 2nd Amendment protects the rights of individual citizens to own and possess those guns which are typically used for lawful purposes, such as self-defense. 

The amendment’s language regarding a “militia,” the Court determined, means a group of citizens who are well-trained (described in the 2nd Amendment as “well regulated”) and capable of bearing arms for the protection of society.  The Court reached this conclusion by relying on legal and historical evidence.  

For example, James Madison, our 4th President (known as the “Father of the Constitution”) had described the purpose of the 2nd Amendment as: “A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country.”

This does not mean that the rights in the 2nd Amendment are unlimited.

The Supreme Court noted that society has legitimate interests in keeping guns away from those individuals who might be particularly dangerous - such as felons and the mentally ill.  Similarly, reasonable restrictions can be imposed to forbid carrying firearms in “sensitive places” such as schools and government buildings.  

Regulations, however, must be narrowly tailored to legitimate governmental purposes and can’t be imposed as a ruse to deny people their constitutional rights. Chicago had declared that only registered guns could be kept in the city but then made it illegal to register virtually any handgun. Similarly, Chicago required training at shooting ranges as a precondition to obtaining a gun permit but then banned all shooting ranges. Such regulations were struck down as incompatible with the 2nd Amendment.

The discussion of what public policies are best for society will undoubtedly be fiercely debated by advocates from both sides. However, all discussions need to acknowledge that the Supreme Court has decided that the 2nd Amendment protects the fundamental rights of the people themselves to keep and bear those firearms which are typically used for lawful purposes.

Judge Galler is chambered in Washington County.

Marcus January 16, 2013 at 12:01 PM
Guns don’t kill, PEOPLE DO !!! Knife don’t kill, people do. Watch what your kids are watching this days, watch the media and the entertainment, and don’t forget look what games are available and the MOST played games!!! Shooting and killing and destroying and all negative messages in this people’s hands. What they suppose to learn from IT? This will be imbedded in our kids and society and SOME people will do evil just because what they see on this games and movies and even cartoons. ALL I’m saying is DON’T TOUCH MY GUNS, MY RIGHTS, AND MOSTLY DON’T CHIP ON THE SECOND AMENDMENT. I own guns and I use them for defense if I have to and I entertain myself at the shooting range. It relaxes me, it makes me feel good and is MY HOBBY. This is becoming a Socialist / Communist country. More laws more executives orders everywhere you look. Adding more but never taken away, and before you know, WE the people will be “chocked” and NO MORE FREEDOM, as our grand parents and founder of this country know it. Peace and God bless this country ! People of United States of America WAKE UP!
woodtick January 16, 2013 at 04:39 PM
Marcus, I agree with you 100%. Please know that we are not alone in these thoughts of our country and the issues of gun control. If the politicians were smart, they would re-phrase their request as " gun regulation" to insure the 2nd Amendment right as written. Good guys minus guns, equals bad guys with guns. That's the reality of gun "control". Personally, I don't ,can't, wont agree with odds like that against me .
Joseph Northpal January 16, 2013 at 04:44 PM
Arms are not restricted to guns, any means to protect ourselves against this or any government.
woodtick January 16, 2013 at 05:32 PM
EXACTLY !!!! There was a rececent report ( in this paper) of a woman that attacked a man with her teeth. I suppose now it would be politically accepted to ask that all teeth are to be removed! haha. I feel it's just time to concentrate on the bad guys by setting an eye opening public administration ( please note: I didn't use the word "execution" God forbid ) of punishment for violent crime that just might register and change the mind of the next perpetrator in line. Basically make it known to all and send the strongest message to criminals. The rest is up to each individual to accept the full responsibility of safely owning and properly maintaining and weapon. If there are mental issues involved, simply do not allow a situation where a weapon can be accessed. Be responsible. Locks and safes. Education. Yep... even your teeth!

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