Why Recently Proposed Gun-Violence Legislation Is Constitutional

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Tragic mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and elsewhere have prompted renewed national interest in the federal regulation of firearms. In January 2013 President Barack Obama publicly announced support for three new legislative measures to regulate firearm ownership and sales:

  • Banning certain semiautomatic weapons with military-style features—commonly referred to as “assault weapons”—in addition to high-capacity ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds
  • Requiring background checks on all firearms sales, not just those purchased from federally licensed firearms dealers
  • Enhancing penalties for trafficking in firearms

Proposed legislation with similar elements has been introduced in Congress. These measures as written would not violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms as recently defined in two landmark Supreme Court decisions—District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008, and McDonald v. City of Chicago in 2010. Under Heller and McDonald the Second Amendment protects the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms for self-defense in the home. The proposed measures would not violate that right, but rather fall squarely within the scope of “presumptively lawful regulatory measures” that Heller identified as constitutionally sound. Furthermore, these proposals would effectively advance the important government objectives of preventing gun violence and protecting law enforcement officers and would not unduly burden law-abiding Americans or impose upon the core right identified in Heller.

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