What it means to ‘bear’ arms

What it means to 'bear' arms

Supreme Court’s nine fine minds are about to ponder the meaning of a verb. What they decide will have important state and municipal policy consequences. How they decide — their reasoning — might have momentous implications for how the current court construes the Constitution. The Second Amendment — “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” — includes a 13-word preamble that was not explicitly interpreted until 217 years after the amendment’s ratification in 1791. The court decided in 2008 that the preamble did not mean that the right to possess firearms was conditional on membership in a militia. Thirteen years have passed since this ruling that the amendment guarantees an individual right, independent of militia membership. But the particular right at issue in 2008 was the right to keep a functioning handgun in one’s home for self-defense. Now, the court must construe one of the amendment’s 14 other words: “bear.” Next Wednesday, the court will hear oral arguments in a challenge to a New York statute, essentially unchanged since 1913, which requires people seeking a license to carry guns outside their home to demonstrate a “proper cause.” The statute does not define this, but in practice the state says it means an “actual and articulable” need for self-protection, a criterion that New York officials apply to few New Yorkers. Hawaii is one of seven states with laws similar to […]

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