Few issues in America public life are more emotionally charged than guns and no subject within this political maelstrom is more bitterly contested than the Second Amendment. Although it is hard to imagine this issue heating up any further, it is about to get red-hot.
Earlier this year, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down the District of Columbia's local gun-control law on Second Amendment grounds. The D.C. Court is only the second Appeals Court to affirm that the Second Amendment protects an individual (as opposed to collective) right to bear arms, and the first one to actually strike down an existing gun control law on this basis. The case is now heading to the Supreme Court, which has not taken a Second Amendment case in almost seventy years. District of Columbia v Heller will likely shape the contours of future discussions of gun control for decades to come. [http://www.scotuswiki.com/index.php?title=DC_v._Heller ] It might even have an impact on the dynamics of the 2008 presidential election. For better or worse, history—the history of the 2nd amendment and the history of how Americans have interpreted it—is also likely to be at the heart of the case.
The Second Amendment reads: "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." What do these words mean? Well, the answer to this question depends on who you ask. Supporters of the so-called collective rights interpretation believe that the Second Amendment only protects the right to bear arms within the context of well regulated militias. Supporters of the so-called "individual right" interpretation view the right to bear arms as a right vested in individuals, much like the 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech.
The fact that there are two such divergent interpretations is the result of significant changes in how Americans view the 2nd Amendment that occurred during the latter part of the twentieth century. For most of the last century, the meaning of the Second Amendment was not particularly controversial: the courts, legal scholars, politicians, and historians endorsed some version of the collective rights interpretation. As late as 1991, Chief Justice Warren Burger described the individual rights view as an intellectual fraud. Yet, the growth of a revisionist individual rights theory of the Second Amendment in the years since Burger made his comment has been nothing short of astonishing. http://www.tnr.com/booksarts/story.html?id=e8997807-107b-461f-90d2-51a3ef91b508