The United States of America is founded on the presumption of innocence. After the Supreme Court’s landmark New York State Pistol Rifle Association v. Bruen Supreme Court decision, there is now a presumption that gun laws are unconstitutional unless the government can prove there was a similar law at the time of the ratification of the Second Amendment.
According to the Bruen decision, the interest balancing test does not apply to Second Amendment cases. The courts can only rely on the original text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment.
This decision put most anti-gun politicians and advocates in a precarious position. Almost no gun control existed at the time of the Second Amendment’s ratification. With the combination of little to no supporting historical evidence and without leniency from the previous interest balancing test, gun control advocates will have a much harder time of successfully passing legislation that will defeat SCOTUS’s new test. The anti-gun side had to find something in history that would save gun control laws.
Anti-gun state and gun control advocates usually point to the Sir John Knight’s Case that challenged the Statute of Northampton. According to the anti-gun side, the law forbids carrying a firearm in public. Still, most legal scholars agree that it banned the carrying of a gun in public only if the intent is to terrify the people. Without many other examples of gun control laws, the anti-gun side must base their arguments on this case.
Unfortunately for the gun control side, the Supreme Court addressed the Sir John Knight’s Case and others like it. According to Footnote 11 of the Bruen decision, whenever multiple interpretations can be taken from a case, the Supreme Court will favor the interpretation that favors the Second Amendment. This demand puts the burden on the state to prove their analog is consistent with the original text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment.
Footnote 11 reads: “The dissent discounts Sir John Knight’s Case, 3 Mod. 117, 87 Eng. Rep. 75, because it only “arguably” supports the view that an evil-intent requirement attached to the Statute of Northampton by the late 1600s and early 1700s. See post, at 37. But again, because the Second Amendment’s bare text covers petitioners’ public carry, the respondents here shoulder the burden of demonstrating that New York’s proper-cause requirement is consistent with the Second Amendment’s text and historical scope. See supra, at 15. To the extent there are multiple plausible interpretations of Sir John Knight’s Case, we will favor the one that is more consistent with the Second Amendment’s command.”
Because SCOTUS referenced the case in a footnote doesn’t mean the state will not try to use Sir John Knight’s Case. We have seen states argue that they can use laws from the ratification date of the Fourteenth Amendment to defend their anti-gun statutes. The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified shortly after the Civil War ended when states passed laws to prevent formerly enslaved people from getting firearms. Some courts might even accept these arguments, but it is delaying the inevitable.
SCOTUS laid down a straightforward test for gun laws. If a law is inconsistent with the plain text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment, it must be thrown out. This new test puts the burden on the states to prove that their law is compatible with the Second Amendment.
About John Crump
John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at www.crumpy.com.