United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435 (1976)

2012-09-20 15:18:08

The Supreme Court’s most recent and most important decision on the meaning of the Second Amendment, United States v. Miller, developed from the enactment of the National Firearms Act of 1934, the first federal regulation of private firearms. It taxed and required the registration of automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns. In 1939, the Act was challenged under the Second Amendment in Miller.

The government indicted Miller and a co-defendant for transporting an unregistered sawed-off shotgun in interstate commerce. A lower court found that the Act violated the Second Amendment. By a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court found that the sawed-off shotgun was not among the ‘‘arms’’ protected by the Second Amendment absent ‘‘evidence tending to show that’’ its use or possession ‘‘at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated Militia.’’ The Court concluded that it was not ‘‘within judicial notice’’ that a sawed-off shotgun was a weapon that was ‘‘any part of the ordinary military equipment’’ or whose use ‘‘could contribute to the common defence.’’ Without such evidence, the Court could not ‘‘say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument.’’

Miller leaves open the question of whether the rights secured by the Second Amendment belong only to individuals, to the states, or to persons serving in state-organized militia units. Given widespread gun ownership and the demand for stricter gun controls, the debate over the rights secured by the Second Amendment will remain ongoing and lively.


References and Further Reading

  • Kates, Don B., Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment, Michigan Law Review 82 (1983): 204–273.
  • Levinson, Sanford, The Embarrassing Second Amendment, Yale Law Journal 99 (1989): 637–659.
  • Tribe, Lawrence, American Constitutional Law. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Foundation, 2000, pp. 894–903.
  • Williams, David C., Civil Republicanism and the Citizen Militia: The Terrifying Second Amendment, Yale Law Journal 101 (1991): 551–615.

See also Gun Control/Anti-Gun Control; National Rifle Association (NRA); Right to Bear Arms (II)