DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. HELLER (2008)
JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.
We consider whether a District of Columbia prohibition on the possession of usable handguns in the home violates the Second Amendment to the Constitution. I The District of Columbia generally prohibits the possession of handguns. It is a crime to carry an unregistered firearm, and the registration of handguns is prohibited. See D. C. Code §§7–2501.01(12), 7–2502.01(a), 7– 2502.02(a)(4) (2001). Wholly apart from that prohibition, no person may carry a handgun without a license, but the chief of police may issue licenses for 1-year periods. See §§22–4504(a), 22–4506. District of Columbia law also requires residents to keep their lawfully owned firearms, such as registered long guns, “unloaded and dissembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device” unless they are located in a place of business or are being used for lawful recreational activities. See §7–2507.02.1 —————— 1There are minor exceptions to all of these prohibitions, none of which is relevant here. 2 DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. HELLER Opinion of the Court Respondent Dick Heller is a D. C. special police officer authorized to carry a handgun while on duty at the Federal Judicial Center. He applied for a registration certificate for a handgun that he wished to keep at home, but the District refused. He thereafter filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia seeking, on Second Amendment grounds, to enjoin the city from enforcing the bar on the registration of handguns, the licensing requirement insofar as it prohibits the carrying of a firearm in the home without a license, and the trigger-lock requirement insofar as it prohibits the use of “functional firearms within the home.” App. 59a. The District Court dismissed respondent’s complaint, see Parker v. District of Columbia, 311 F. Supp. 2d 103, 109 (2004). The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, construing his complaint as seeking the right to render a firearm operable and carry it about his home in that condition only when necessary for self-defense,2 reversed, see Parker v. District of Columbia, 478 F. 3d 370, 401 (2007). It held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess firearms and that the city’s total ban on handguns, as well as its requirement that firearms in the home be kept nonfunctional even when necessary for self-defense, violated that right. See id., at 395, 399–401. The Court of Appeals directed the District Court to enter summary judgment for respondent. We granted certiorari. 552 U. S. ___ (2007).
. . .
The Second Amendment provides: “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 infringed.” In interpreting this text, we are guided by the principle that “[t]he Constitution was written to be understood by the voters; its words and phrases were used in their normal and ordinary as distinguished from technical meaning.” United States v. Sprague, 282 U. S. 716, 731 (1931); see also Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, 188 (1824). Normal meaning may of course include an idiomatic meaning, but it excludes secret or technical meanings that would not have been known to ordinary citizens in the founding generation. The two sides in this case have set out very different interpretations of the Amendment. Petitioners and today’s dissenting Justices believe that it protects only the right to possess and carry a firearm in connection with militia service. See Brief for Petitioners 11–12; post, at 1 (STEVENS, J., dissenting). Respondent argues that it protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. See Brief for Respondent 2–4. The Second Amendment is naturally divided into two parts: its prefatory clause and its operative clause. The former does not limit the latter grammatically, but rather announces a purpose. The Amendment could be rephrased, “Because a well regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”
(Analysis of claim that prefatory clause not limiting right)
1. Operative Clause. a. “Right of the People.” The first salient feature of the operative clause is that it codifies a “right of the people.” The unamended Constitution and the Bill of Rights use the phrase “right of the people” two other times, in the First Amendment’s Assembly-and-Petition Clause and in the Fourth Amendment’s Search-and-Seizure Clause. The Ninth Amendment uses very similar terminology (“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”). All three of these instances unambiguously refer to individual rights, not “collective” rights, or rights that may be exercised only through participation in some corporate body.
Three provisions of the Constitution refer to “the people” in a context other than “rights”—the famous preamble (“We the people”), §2 of Article I (providing that “the people” will choose members of the House), and the Tenth Amendment (providing that those powers not given the Federal Government remain with “the States” or “the people”). Those provisions arguably refer to “the people” acting collectively—but they deal with the exercise or reservation of powers, not rights. Nowhere else in the Constitution does a “right” attributed to “the people” refer to anything other than an individual right.6 What is more, in all six other provisions of the Constitution that mention “the people,” the term unambiguously refers to all members of the political community, not an unspecified subset. As we said in United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U. S. 259, 265 (1990): “‘[T]he people’ seems to have been a term of art employed in select parts of the Constitution. . . . [Its uses] sugges[t] that ‘the people’ protected by the
Fourth Amendment, and by the First and Second Amendments, and to whom rights and powers are reserved in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, refers to a class of persons who are part of a national community or who have otherwise developed sufficient connection with this country to be considered part of that community.” This contrasts markedly with the phrase “the militia” in the prefatory clause. As we will describe below, the “militia” in colonial America consisted of a subset of “the people”—those who were male, able bodied, and within a certain age range. Reading the Second Amendment as protecting only the right to “keep and bear Arms” in an organized militia therefore fits poorly with the operative clause’s description of the holder of that right as “the people.” We start therefore with a strong presumption that the Second Amendment right is exercised individually and belongs to all Americans.
b. “Keep and bear Arms.” We move now from the holder of the right “the people”—to the substance of the right: “to keep and bear Arms.” Before addressing the verbs “keep” and “bear,” we interpret their object: “Arms.” The 18th-century meaning is no different from the meaning today. The 1773 edition of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary defined “arms” as “weapons of offence, or armour of defence.” 1 Dictionary of the English Language 107 (4th ed.) (hereinafter Johnson). Timothy Cunningham’s important 1771 legal dictionary defined “arms” as “any thing that a man wears for his defence, or takes into his hands, or useth in wrath to cast at or strike another.” 1 A New and Complete Law Dictionary (1771); see also N. Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) (reprinted 1989) (hereinafter Webster) (similar).
The term was applied, then as now, to weapons that were not specifically designed for military use and were not employed in a military capacity. For instance, Cunningham’s legal dictionary gave as an example of usage: “Servants and labourers shall use bows and arrows on Sundays, &c. and not bear other arms.” See also, e.g., An Act for the trial of Negroes, 1797 Del. Laws ch. XLIII, §6, p. 104, in 1 First Laws of the State of Delaware 102, 104 (J. Cushing ed. 1981 (pt. 1)); see generally State v. Duke, 42 Tex. 455, 458 (1874) (citing decisions of state courts construing “arms”). Although one founding-era thesaurus limited “arms” (as opposed to “weapons”) to “instruments of offence generally made use of in war,” even that source stated that all firearms constituted “arms.” 1 J. Trusler, The Distinction Between Words Esteemed Synonymous in the English Language 37 (1794) (emphasis added).
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From our review of founding-era sources, we conclude that this natural meaning was also the meaning that “bear arms” had in the 18th century. In numerous instances, “bear arms” was unambiguously used to refer to the carrying of weapons outside of an organized militia. The most prominent examples are those most relevant to the Second Amendment: Nine state constitutional provisions written in the 18th century or the first two decades of the 19th, which enshrined a right of citizens to “bear arms in defense of themselves and the state” or “bear arms in defense of himself and the state.” 8 It is clear from those formulations that “bear arms” did not refer only to carry ing a weapon in an organized military unit. Justice James Wilson interpreted the Pennsylvania Constitution’s armsbearing right, for example, as a recognition of the natural right of defense “of one’s person or house”—what he called the law of “self preservation.” 2 Collected Works of James Wilson 1142, and n. x (K. Hall & M. Hall eds. 2007) (citing Pa. Const., Art. IX, §21 (1790)); see also T. Walker, Introduction to American Law 198 (1837) (“Thus the right of self-defence [is] guaranteed by the [Ohio] constitution”); see also id., at 157 (equating Second Amendment with that provision of the Ohio Constitution). That was also the interpretation of those state constitutional provisions adopted by pre-Civil War state courts.9 These provisions demonstrate—again, in the most analogous linguistic context—that “bear arms” was not limited to the carrying of arms in a militia.
The phrase “bear Arms” also had at the time of the founding an idiomatic meaning that was significantly different from its natural meaning: “to serve as a soldier, do military service, fight” or “to wage war.”
(Rejection of this meaning rejected)
JUSTICE STEVENS places great weight on James Madison’s inclusion of a conscientious-objector clause in his original draft of the Second Amendment: “but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.” Creating the Bill of Rights 12 (H. Veit, K. Bowling, & C. Bickford eds. 1991) (hereinafter Veit). He argues that this clause establishes that the drafters of the Second Amendment intended “bear Arms” to refer only to military service. See post, at 26. It is always perilous to derive the meaning of an adopted provision from another provision deleted in the drafting process.12 In any case, what JUSTICE STEVENS would conclude from the deleted provision does not follow. It was not meant to exempt from military service those who objected to going to war but had no scruples about personal gunfights. Quakers opposed the use of arms not just for militia service, but for any violent purpose whatsoever—so much so that Quaker frontiersmen were forbidden to use arms to defend their families, even though “[i]n such circumstances the temptation to seize a hunting rifle or knife in self-defense . . . must sometimes have been almost overwhelming.”
(Remaining grammatical analysis omitted)
c. Meaning of the Operative Clause.
Putting all of these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation. This meaning is strongly confirmed by the historical background of the Second Amendment. We look to this because it has always been widely understood that the Second Amendment, like the First and Fourth Amendments, codified a pre-existing right. The very text of the Second Amendment implicitly recognizes the pre-existence of the right and declares only that it “shall not be infringed.” As we said in United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U. S. 542, 553 (1876), “[t]his is not a right granted by the Constitution. Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The Second amendment declares that it shall not be infringed . . . .”16 Between the Restoration and the Glorious Revolution, the Stuart Kings Charles II and James II succeeded in using select militias loyal to them to suppress political dissidents, in part by disarming their opponents. See J. Malcolm, To Keep and Bear Arms 31–53 (1994) (hereinafter Malcolm); L. Schwoerer, The Declaration of Rights, 1689, p. 76 (1981). Under the auspices of the 1671 Game Act, for example, the Catholic James II had ordered general disarmaments of regions home to his Protestant enemies. See Malcolm 103–106. These experiences caused Englishmen to be extremely wary of concentrated military forces run by the state and to be jealous of their arms. They accordingly obtained an assurance from William and Mary, in the Declaration of Right (which was codified as the English Bill of Rights), that Protestants would never be disarmed: “That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law.” 1 W. & M., c. 2, §7, in 3 Eng. Stat. at Large 441 (1689). This right has long been understood to be the predecessor to our Second Amendment. See E. Dumbauld, The Bill of Rights and What It Means Today 51 (1957); W. Rawle, A View of the Constitution of the United States of America 122 (1825) (hereinafter Rawle). It was clearly an individual right, having nothing whatever to do with service in a militia.
(Further evidence of pre-existing right omitted)
There seems to us no doubt, on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms. Of course the right was not unlimited, just as the First Amendment’s right of free speech was not, see, e.g., United States v. Williams, 553 U. S. ___ (2008). Thus, we do not read the Second Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation, just as we do not read the First Amendment to protect the right of citizens to speak for any purpose. Before turning to limitations upon the individual right, however, we must determine whether the prefatory clause of the Second Amendment comports with our interpretation of the operative clause.
(Grammatical analysis of prefatory clause omitted)
Relationship between Prefatory Clause and Operative Clause
We reach the question, then: Does the preface fit with an operative clause that creates an individual right to keep and bear arms? It fits perfectly, once one knows the history that the founding generation knew and that we have described above. That history showed that the way tyrants had eliminated a militia consisting of all the ablebodied men was not by banning the militia but simply by taking away the people’s arms, enabling a select militia or standing army to suppress political opponents. This is what had occurred in England that prompted codification of the right to have arms in the English Bill of Rights. The debate with respect to the right to keep and bear arms, as with other guarantees in the Bill of Rights, was not over whether it was desirable (all agreed that it was) but over whether it needed to be codified in the Constitution. During the 1788 ratification debates, the fear that the federal government would disarm the people in order to impose rule through a standing army or select militia was pervasive in Antifederalist rhetoric.
. . .
It is therefore entirely sensible that the Second Amendment’s prefatory clause announces the purpose for which the right was codified: to prevent elimination of the militia. The prefatory clause does not suggest that preserving the militia was the only reason Americans valued the ancient right; most undoubtedly thought it even more important for self-defense and hunting. But the threat that the new Federal Government would destroy the citizens’ militia by taking away their arms was the reason that right—unlike some other English rights—was codified in a written Constitution. JUSTICE BREYER’s assertion that individual self-defense is merely a “subsidiary interest” of the right to keep and bear arms, see post, at 36, is profoundly mistaken. He bases that assertion solely upon the prologue—but that can only show that self-defense had little to do with the right’s codification; it was the central component of the right itself.
. . .
Our interpretation is confirmed by analogous arms-bearing rights in state constitutions that preceded and immediately followed adoption of the Second Amendment. Four States adopted analogues to the Federal Second Amendment in the period between independence and the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Two of them— Pennsylvania and Vermont—clearly adopted individual rights unconnected to militia service. Pennsylvania’s Declaration of Rights of 1776 said: “That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves, and the state . . . .” §XIII, in 5 Thorpe 3082, 3083 (emphasis added). In 1777, Vermont adopted the identical provision, except for inconsequential differences in punctuation and capitalization.
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(Tenn. 1833). The historical narrative that petitioners must endorse would thus treat the Federal Second Amendment as an odd outlier, protecting a right unknown in state constitutions or at English common law, based on little more than an overreading of the prefatory clause. C JUSTICE STEVENS relies on the drafting history of the Second Amendment—the various proposals in the state conventions and the debates in Congress. It is dubious to rely on such history to interpret a text that was widely understood to codify a pre-existing right, rather than to fashion a new one. But even assuming that this legislative history is relevant, JUSTICE STEVENS flatly misreads the historical record.
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(post-ratification analysis omitted)
(analysis of effect of Supreme Court precedents omitted)
(Defining the scope of the individual right)
Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. See, e.g., Sheldon, in 5 Blume 346; Rawle 123; Pomeroy 152–153; Abbott 333. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues. See, e.g., State v. Chandler, 5 La. Ann., at 489–490; Nunn v. State, 1 Ga., at 251; see generally 2 Kent *340, n. 2; The American Students’ Blackstone 84, n. 11 (G. Chase ed. 1884). Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.” 307 U. S., at 179. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons.” (citations omitted)
It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause. But as we have said, the conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment’s ratification was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty. It may well be true today that a militia, to be as effective as militias in the 18th century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. Indeed, it may be true that no amount of small arms could be useful against modern-day bombers and tanks. But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right.
(Application of holding to the DC law omitted)
In sum, we hold that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense. Assuming that Heller is not disqualified from the exercise of Second Amendment rights, the District must permit him to register his handgun and must issue him a license to carry it in the home.
Justice Stevens (dissent)
The question presented by this case is not whether the Second Amendment protects a “collective right” or an “individual right.” Surely it protects a right that can be enforced by individuals. But a conclusion that the Second Amendment protects an individual right does not tell us anything about the scope of that right.
Guns are used to hunt, for self-defense, to commit crimes, for sporting activities, and to perform military duties. The Second Amendment plainly does not protect the right to use a gun to rob a bank; it is equally clear that it does encompass the right to use weapons for certain military purposes. Whether it also protects the right to possess and use guns for nonmilitary purposes like hunting and personal self-defense is the question presented by this case. The text of the Amendment, its history, and our decision in United States v. Miller, 307 U. S. 174(1939) , provide a clear answer to that question.
The Second Amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia. It was a response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several States. Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms. Specifically, there is no indication that the Framers of the Amendment intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution.
In 1934, Congress enacted the National Firearms Act, the first major federal firearms law.1 Upholding a conviction under that Act, this Court held that, “[i]n the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a ‘shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length’ at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument.” Miller, 307 U. S., at 178. The view of the Amendment we took in Miller—that it protects the right to keep and bear arms for certain military purposes, but that it does not curtail the Legislature’s power to regulate the nonmilitary use and ownership of weapons—is both the most natural reading of the Amendment’s text and the interpretation most faithful to the history of its adoption.
Since our decision in Miller, hundreds of judges have relied on the view of the Amendment we endorsed there;2 we ourselves affirmed it in 1980.
. . .
The text of the Second Amendment is brief. It provides: “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.”
Three portions of that text merit special focus: the introductory language defining the Amendment’s purpose, the class of persons encompassed within its reach, and the unitary nature of the right that it protects.
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State”
The preamble to the Second Amendment makes three important points. It identifies the preservation of the militia as the Amendment’s purpose; it explains that the militia is necessary to the security of a free State; and it recognizes that the militia must be “well regulated.” In all three respects it is comparable to provisions in several State Declarations of Rights that were adopted roughly contemporaneously with the Declaration of Independence.5 Those state provisions highlight the importance members of the founding generation attached to the maintenance of state militias; they also underscore the profound fear shared by many in that era of the dangers posed by standing armies.6 While the need for state militias has not been a matter of significant public interest for almost two centuries, that fact should not obscure the contemporary concerns that animated the Framers.
The parallels between the Second Amendment and these state declarations, and the Second Amendment ’s omission of any statement of purpose related to the right to use firearms for hunting or personal self-defense, is especially striking in light of the fact that the Declarations of Rights of Pennsylvania and Vermont did expresslyprotect such civilian uses at the time. Article XIII of Pennsylvania’s 1776 Declaration of Rights announced that “the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the state,” 1 Schwartz 266 (emphasis added); §43 of the Declaration assured that “the inhabitants of this state shall have the liberty to fowl and hunt in seasonable times on the lands they hold, and on all other lands therein not inclosed,” id., at 274. And Article XV of the 1777 Vermont Declaration of Rights guaranteed “[t]hat the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the State.”Id., at 324 (emphasis added). The contrast between those two declarations and the Second Amendment reinforces the clear statement of purpose announced in the Amendment’s preamble. It confirms that the Framers’ single-minded focus in crafting the constitutional guarantee “to keep and bear arms” was on military uses of firearms, which they viewed in the context of service in state militias.
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“The right of the people”
The centerpiece of the Court’s textual argument is its insistence that the words “the people” as used in the Second Amendment must have the same meaning, and protect the same class of individuals, as when they are used in the First and Fourth Amendment s. According to the Court, in all three provisions—as well as the Constitution’s preamble, section 2 of Article I, and the Tenth Amendment —“the term unambiguously refers to all members of the political community, not an unspecified subset.” Ante, at 6. But the Court itself reads the Second Amendment to protect a “subset” significantly narrower than the class of persons protected by the First and Fourth Amendment s; when it finally drills down on the substantive meaning of the Second Amendment , the Court limits the protected class to “law-abiding, responsible citizens,” ante, at 63. But the class of persons protected by the First and Fourth Amendment s is not so limited; for even felons (and presumably irresponsible citizens as well) may invoke the protections of those constitutional provisions. The Court offers no way to harmonize its conflicting pronouncements.
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“To keep and bear Arms”
Although the Court’s discussion of these words treats them as two “phrases”—as if they read “to keep” and “to bear”—they describe a unitary right: to possess arms if needed for military purposes and to use them in conjunction with military activities.
As a threshold matter, it is worth pausing to note an oddity in the Court’s interpretation of “to keep and bear arms.” Unlike the Court of Appeals, the Court does not read that phrase to create a right to possess arms for “lawful, private purposes.” Parker v. District of Columbia, 478 F. 3d 370, 382 (CADC 2007). Instead, the Court limits the Amendment’s protection to the right “to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.” Ante, at 19. No party or amicus urged this interpretation; the Court appears to have fashioned it out of whole cloth. But although this novel limitation lacks support in the text of the Amendment, the Amendment’s text does justify a different limitation: the “right to keep and bear arms” protects only a right to possess and use firearms in connection with service in a state-organized militia.
The term “bear arms” is a familiar idiom; when used unadorned by any additional words, its meaning is “to serve as a soldier, do military service, fight.” 1 Oxford English Dictionary 634 (2d ed. 1989). It is derived from the Latin arma ferre, which, translated literally, means “to bear [ferre] war equipment [arma].” Brief for Professors of Linguistics and English as Amici Curiae 19. One 18th-century dictionary defined “arms” as “weapons of offence, or armour of defence,” 1 S. Johnson, A Dictionary of theEnglish Language(1755), and another contemporaneous source explained that “[b]y arms, we understand those instruments of offence generally made use of in war; such as firearms, swords, & c. By weapons, we more particularly mean instruments of other kinds (exclusive of fire-arms), made use of as offensive, on special occasions.” 1 J. Trusler, The Distinction Between Words Esteemed Synonymous in the English Language37 (1794).8 Had the Framers wished to expand the meaning of the phrase “bear arms” to encompass civilian possession and use, they could have done so by the addition of phrases such as “for the defense of themselves,” as was done in the Pennsylvania and Vermont Declarations of Rights. The unmodified use of “bear arms,” by contrast, refers most naturally to a military purpose, as evidenced by its use in literally dozens of contemporary texts.9 The absence of any reference to civilian uses of weapons tailors the text of the Amendment to the purpose identified in its preamble.10 But when discussing these words, the Court simply ignores the preamble.
. . .
Although it gives short shrift to the drafting history of the Second Amendment , the Court dwells at length on four other sources: the 17th-century English Bill of Rights; Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England; postenactment commentary on the Second Amendment ; and post-Civil War legislative history.28 All of these sources shed only indirect light on the question beforeus, and in any event offer little support for the Court’s conclusion.
(Discussion of these sources omitted)
The Court concludes its opinion by declaring that it is not the proper role of this Court to change the meaning of rights “enshrine[d]” in the Constitution. Ante, at 64. But the right the Court announces was not “enshrined” in the Second Amendment by the Framers; it is the product of today’s law-changing decision. The majority’s exegesis has utterly failed to establish that as a matter of text or history, “the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home” is “elevate[d] above all other interests” by the Second Amendment . Ante, at 64.
Until today, it has been understood that legislatures may regulate the civilian use and misuse of firearms so long as they do not interfere with the preservation of a well-regulated militia. The Court’s announcement of a new constitutional right to own and use firearms for private purposes upsets that settled understanding, but leaves for future cases the formidable task of defining the scope of permissible regulations. Today judicial craftsmen have confidently asserted that a policy choice that denies a “law-abiding, responsible citize[n]” the right to keep and use weapons in the home for self-defense is “off the table.” Ante, at 64. Given the presumption that most citizens are law abiding, and the reality that the need to defend oneself may suddenly arise in a host of locations outside the home, I fear that the District’s policy choice may well be just the first of an unknown number of dominoes to be knocked off the table.39
. . .
For these reasons, I respectfully dissent.