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The Second Amendment: lesson overview

AP.GOPO:
LOR‑2 (EU)
,
LOR‑2.C (LO)
,
LOR‑2.C.5 (EK)
A high-level overview of the powers of the federal bureaucracy to implement policy.  
Since the 1960s, the issue of gun control legislation has continued to surface in Congress and the Supreme Court. The Court has been consistent in its commitment to individual liberty, upholding an individual’s right to own a gun with little to no government interference. The Supreme Court will most likely continue to hear cases that question the balance between the government’s power to pass gun control legislation and the individual liberty to own guns with limited restrictions.

Key terms

TermDefinition
Second AmendmentA provision in the Bill of Rights that protects the right to bear arms (weapons).
selective incorporationA judicial doctrine applying some protections of the Bill of Rights to the states, based on the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Key takeaways

The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment
In recent decades, states have attempted to pass gun control legislation that would limit an individual’s access to guns or to particular types of guns. Between 1791 and 2007, the Supreme Court issued rulings on four cases dealing with the Second Amendment. Since 2008, the Supreme Court has issued rulings on two landmark cases: District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010).
In both District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010), the Court struck down laws that placed restrictions on gun ownership. The majority in both cases argued that gun control legislation gave the government too much power and violated individual liberties.
Why do these cases matter?
The importance of McDonald v. Chicago has to do with the fact that Constitutional rights don't automatically apply to state and local governments. Even though the decision in DC v. Heller had granted individuals the right to own operative handguns in their homes in the District of Columbia, it was the McDonald decision that extended this right to state and local governments. The decision was based on the principle of "selective incorporation" of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. We'll discuss this principle more in a future lesson.

Review questions

What does the Second Amendment protect?
When hearing cases on the Second Amendment, how has the Supreme Court balanced the power of the government and the individual right to bear arms?
Using examples from TWO specific rulings, compare how the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment has shown a commitment to individual liberty in different ways.

Want to join the conversation?

  • leaf red style avatar for user Naoya Okamoto
    In the case of DC v. Heller, I would have thought that the ruling applied to local governments attempting to place restrictions on the ownership of operative hand guns in the home, but it seems that this ruling only applied to DC. Because DC is a city, why wouldn’t this ruling have applied to other local governments as well? In other words, McDonald v. Chicago extended the right to state and local governments. Before this ruling, what government did this right apply to? The federal government only?
    (6 votes)
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    • duskpin tree style avatar for user DorkKnight
      DC's government is technically an executive agency, where Congress has power to overturn laws. Its authority is delegated from Congress so we can consider it as part of the federal government and not belonging to any state or local government.

      Because of this, the Supreme Court is allowed to involve the 2nd Amendment in their decision, as DC's gov. is a branch of the federal government. As of DC v. Heller, the 2nd Amendment only applied to the federal government.
      (5 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user nathan.sease
    I thought that the ruling of McDonald v. Chicago was undecided... I didn't really get the official ruling
    (3 votes)
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  • sneak peak green style avatar for user Moby Duck Killer
    In your opinion, is the Second amendment a good thing or a bad thing?
    (0 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Edward Nicholas Guerrrero, II
    I thought that the ruling of McDonald v. Chicago was undecided... I didn't really get the official ruling. Can you please fill me in?
    (0 votes)
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