February 2007 Vol. 105 No. 4 THE REVIEW

Scrutinizing the Second Amendment

Adam Winkler

One overlooked issue in the voluminous literature on the Second Amendment is what standard of review should apply to gun control if the Amendment is read to protect an individual right to bear arms. This lack of attention may be due to the assumption that strict scrutiny would necessarily apply because the right would be “fundamental” or because the right is located in the Bill of Rights. In this Article, Professor Winkler challenges that assumption and considers the arguments for a contrary conclusion: that the Second Amendment’s individual right to bear arms is appropriately governed by a deferential, reasonableness review under which nearly all gun control laws would survive judicial review. Professor Winkler’s discussion is informed by the example of state constitutional law, where the individual right to bear arms is already well established. Forty-two states have constitutional provisions guaranteeing an individual right to bear arms and, tellingly, every state to consider the question applies a deferential reasonable regulation standard in arms rights cases. No state applies strict scrutiny or any other type of heightened review to gun laws. Since World War II, the state courts have authored hundreds of opinions using the reasonable regulation test to determine the constitutionality of all sorts of gun control laws. All but a fraction of these decisions uphold gun control laws as reasonable measures to protect public safety. If the federal courts follow this universal practice of the state courts and apply the reasonable regulation standard, nearly all gun control laws will survive judicial review. Moreover, as Professor Winkler argues, even if the federal courts decide to apply strict scrutiny, most weapons laws might still be upheld due to the overwhelming governmental interest in public safety. If so, then any eventual triumph of the individual-rights reading of the Second Amendment is likely to be more symbolic than substantive.

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