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.
--Second Amendment, U.S. Constitution
ANY consideration of the gun control debate inevitably turns to questions of the Constitution and the law. That the two are inextricably linked is illustrated by this quotation from the constitutional scholar Lucilius Emery:
The greater deadliness of small firearms easily carried upon the person, the alarming frequency of homicides and felonious assaults with such arms, the evolution of a distinct class of criminals known as "gunmen" . . . are now pressing home the question of the reason, scope, and limitation on the constitutional guaranty of a right to keep and bear arms. 1
That Emery raised this issue in 1915 underscores the long and important connection between the gun debate and the Second Amendment.
In the more public debate surrounding gun control, the Second Amendment is constantly invoked, especially by gun control opponents. 2 To pick a simple example from publications of the National Rifle Association (NRA), its October 1993 issue of American Hunter contained thirty-four references to the Second Amendment or the ownership of guns as a constitutionally protected right. Its November 1993 issue of the American Rifleman contained fourteen such references. Various polls have reported that most Americans believe that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to own weapons. A 1995 U.S. News World Report poll reported that 75 percent of Americans believe that "the Constitution guarantees you the right to own a gun." 3
The Second Amendment warrants detailed treatment for two reasons. First, it is essential as a matter of public policy to know what the law does and does not allow, because public policy springs from and is