United States v. Miller

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In United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939), the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the District Court's invalidation of the National Firearms Act, enacted in 1934. The Court held that the Second Amendment did not guarantee a citizen's right to possess a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon had not been shown to be "ordinary military equipment" that could "contribute to the common defense." Id. at 178.

The facts of the case actually concerned the constitutionality of a federal tax on sawed-off shotguns, which in this case was a double barrel 12-gauge Stevens shotgun having a barrel less than 18 inches in length. The National Firearms Act, which was a revenue measure, was challenged by Miller as an attempt to usurp police power reserved to the States and thus beyond congressional power under Commerce Clause, and as a violation of the substantive right protected by the Second Amendment. The Court rejected both arguments, citing laws passed in the 1780s (just a few years prior to the adoption of the Second Amendment in Massachusetts, New York and Virginia that emphasize the importance of militias.

Justice James McReynolds wrote the opinion for the unanimous Court. Justice William O. Douglas has been newly appointed to the Court and did not participate in the decision.

The Court did not address this issue again prior to 2008.

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