University of Southern California

Essays: Second Amendment Penumbras: Some Preliminary Observations

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Article by Glenn Harlan Reynolds
From Volume 85, Number 2 (January, 2012)

The Second Amendment to the Constitution is now part of “normal constitutional law,” which is to say that the discussion about its meaning has moved from the question of whether it means anything at all, to a well-established position that it protects an individual right, and is enforceable as such against both states and the federal government in United States courts. The extent of that individual right has not yet been fully fleshed out, and, of course, will (like other items of normal constitutional law) occasion disagreement on one issue or another into the foreseeable future.

Nonetheless, now that the right has achieved a measure of concreteness, it has begun, like other parts of the Bill of Rights, to cast its shadow across the law. And if the core of the shadow—or umbra—remains a bit unclear, what of the edge or penumbra? In this brief Essay, I will discuss some possible penumbral aspects of the Second Amendment, as it may be applied in the future. I will also discuss its possible interaction with other (up to now, at least) “underenforced” constitutional rights, and consider whether the normalization of the Second Amendment might imbue those rights with additional force. I will conclude with some guidelines, or at least suggestions, for further research.

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