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3.5 Second Amendment: Rights to Bear Arms

4 min readfebruary 11, 2023

Annika Tekumulla

Annika Tekumulla

Jed Quiaoit

Jed Quiaoit


AP US Government 👩🏾‍⚖️

240 resources
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The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution 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."
This amendment has been the subject of much debate and controversy over the years, with differing interpretations of its meaning and application. The original intent of the Second Amendment was to ensure that states had the ability to maintain a well-regulated militia, independent of the federal government's control. This was seen as a necessary safeguard against potential tyranny by the government.
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Source: The History on the Net

Interpreting the Amendment

The amendment's wording has been the subject of much debate, with the words "well-regulated militia" and "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" being interpreted differently by different groups.

(1) Self-Defense

One interpretation of the Second Amendment is that it protects an individual's right to keep and bear arms for personal defense. This interpretation is often used to support the argument for expanded access to firearms, and has been a driving force behind efforts to prevent restrictions on gun ownership. Proponents of this interpretation point to the use of the words "the right of the people" in the amendment as evidence of its protection of individual rights.

(2) Militias Only!

On the other hand, others interpret the Second Amendment as being limited to the context of a well-regulated militia and not extending to individual rights to keep and bear arms for personal defense. This interpretation is often used to support the argument for stricter gun control measures, such as background checks and restrictions on certain types of firearms.
Regardless of interpretation, the Second Amendment remains a highly controversial issue in the United States. It has been the subject of numerous court cases, with the Supreme Court ultimately ruling that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to keep and bear arms for personal defense. However, the exact extent of this right and the types of restrictions that can be placed on it continue to be debated and determined through court cases and legislative action.

Optional Supreme Court Case Examples

As the title suggests, these are not required for the AP exam, but they are good examples on how the Supreme Court's attitude on Second Amendment-related arguments shifted and continued over time.

McDonald v. Chicago (2010)

The McDonald v. Chicago case was a landmark legal challenge that addressed the issue of whether or not the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to bear arms from being infringed upon by state and local governments.
The plaintiff, Otis McDonald, was a resident of Chicago who sought to purchase a handgun but was restricted by the city's new regulations on handgun ownership. McDonald argued that these regulations violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, which ensures that no state can make laws that infringe upon the rights and privileges of its citizens.
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Source: Politico

In its ruling, the Supreme Court agreed with McDonald, using the Second Amendment as the basis for striking down the gun control laws in Chicago. The Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess firearms, regardless of their intended use, and that this right applies equally to state and local governments as it does to the federal government. As a result of this decision, the McDonald v. Chicago case became a key milestone in the ongoing debate over the interpretation and application of the Second Amendment.
This case also reinforced the principle that the Second Amendment guarantees individual citizens the right to keep and bear arms, and that this right cannot be arbitrarily restricted by state and local governments. The McDonald v. Chicago decision continues to have a significant impact on discussions about gun control laws, and remains a highly controversial issue in American society and politics today.

District of Columbia v. Heller (2008)

The District of Columbia v. Heller case was a legal challenge that reached the Supreme Court of the United States in 2008. The case involved a resident of Washington D.C., named Dick Heller, who sought to register a handgun for personal use but was restricted by the city's strict regulations on handgun ownership. Heller argued that these regulations violated his rights under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to keep and bear arms.
The Supreme Court heard the case and, in a 5-4 decision, agreed with Heller. The Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess firearms, regardless of their intended use, and that this right applies equally to the federal government as it does to state and local governments. The Court also found that the D.C. law at issue was unconstitutional because it prohibited residents from keeping handguns in their homes for self-defense, which the Court deemed a core component of the Second Amendment right.
The decision was highly controversial and sparked intense debate both within and outside of legal circles. Some argued that the decision represented a significant victory for gun rights advocates, while others believed it was a blow to efforts to regulate guns and prevent gun violence. Despite the divisive nature of the case, the District of Columbia v. Heller decision remains a landmark case in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court and continues to shape discussions about gun control and the interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Fast Forward to Today

The Second Amendment has become increasingly important in recent years because of the increase in mass shootings in the United States. The debate on the safety of society versus individual rights is yet again relevant as groups such as the National Rifle Association, March for Our Lives, and other groups rally for their opinions on gun control. 
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Source: The Atlantic

🎥 Watch: AP GOPO - 1st and 2nd Amendments

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