Constitutional laws are the laws and rights which originate from the United States Constitution of 1789. These laws embody the rules and regulations which govern the country, as well as the rights of the individual citizens who reside in it.
Constitutional laws regulate the federal, state, and local governments in the United States. These laws set the legal parameters for what the government can and cannot do. Additionally, these laws outline the basic rights of its citizens.
Each state in the United States also has its own constitution which governs its specific citizens. Constitutional law is most commonly associated with specific fundamental rights, such as:
- Equal protection;
- The right to bear arms;
- Freedom of religion; and
- The right to free speech.
The United States Supreme Court is the foremost authority on all constitutional law issues. The only factor that can override a decision made by the Supreme Court would be a constitutional amendment, which is approved by three-fourths of the states.
The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution specifically acknowledges the right of the people to keep and bear arms. The exact meaning of this phrase remains unresolved and is hotly debated, as the Supreme Court has not yet defined what this phrase means when put into practice.
The Second Amendment states that “[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.” However, the Supreme Court has not provided many decisions regarding the meaning of the Second Amendment.
In 2010, the Supreme court ruled that the Second Amendment right to bear arms applies to the states; meaning, state gun control laws across the United States are being questioned in terms of their constitutionality. The Supreme Court provided considerably few indications regarding what types of gun restrictions would be considered constitutional, and which would not be considered unconstitutional. It is important to note that these laws must be processed through the judicial system in order to narrow down the specifics of their constitutionality.
Is There An Individual Right To Bear Arms?
Many states have created and implements an individual right to bear arms in their state constitutions, pursuant to the Second Amendment. Currently, all but six states have a constitutional right to bear arms:
- New jersey; and
- New York.
It is important to note that although a state may allow a civilian to carry a firearm, there are often limitations and regulations associated with that right. An example of this would be how an employer may prohibit guns in the workplace, but guns in the parking lot laws may allow an employee to keep their firearm in their personal vehicle so long as it is secured.
Some employers also require employees to give notice that they carry a firearm in their vehicle, or to provide proof of their right to carry a firearm. An example of this would be a state permit. As it stands, employees will most likely be required to comply with these requests made by their employers.
What Are Gun Control Laws?
Gun control laws refer to policies regulating the possession and purchase of firearms. This includes:
- The specific types of guns that may be owned;
- Waiting periods required for purchase; and
- The classification of individuals who are prohibited from purchasing and/or owning firearms.
As was previously mentioned, the right to bear arms is protected by the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Both federal and state laws allow individuals to purchase and possess guns or firearms. However, there are also different federal and state laws which regulate the possession and use of guns. Gun owners, dealers, and collectors are all required to follow these laws if they wish to possess a gun, or conduct business selling guns.
Some examples of shared aspects to gun control laws in general include:
- Waiting Periods: Many states require some amount of time to pass between the time that a person purchases a gun, and the time in which they can actually take possession of the gun. These laws are largely intended to discourage rash or “spur-of-the-moment” crimes by imposing these “cooling off” periods; and
- Background Checks: A background check is mandatory in some states before a person can purchase or own a gun. Gun safety classes may also be required.
What Are Federal Gun Control Laws?
Federal laws regulating gun ownership to some degree include the National Firearms Act (“NFA”), and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.
The NFA places restrictions on the sale or possession of short-barreled shotguns, machine guns, and silencers. As such, if someone wishes to purchase a firearm or device which is regulated by the NFA, they must take the following steps:
- Go through an extensive background check;
- Purchase a tax stamp for the manufacture of the firearm or device; and
- Register the weapon with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives’ NFA registry.
Some states, such as New York and California, have prohibited the ownership of firearms and devices that are governed by the NFA. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act specifically prohibits guns for personal or business use if any of the following applies:
- You are a fugitive from justice;
- You are addicted to, or illegally use, any controlled substance;
- If you were convicted of a crime which was punishable by a prison term of more than one year;
- If you are in a mental institution, or if you have been ruled as mentally unfit by a court;
- You were dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces;
- You are a U.S. citizen and you have renounced your U.S. citizenship;
- If you are living in the U.S. unlawfully;
- You were convicted of domestic violence in any court; and/or
- You have a restraining order against you involving your intimate partner and/or your partner’s child or children.
What Are State Gun Control Laws?
To reiterate, gun laws vary considerably by state. As such, some states have many more gun restrictions compared to other states. When visiting other states, some gun owners will be granted reciprocity and recognition for any “right to carry” gun laws which they had in their home state. However, this does not apply in every state.
As was previously mentioned, twelve states currently prohibit employers from firing employees who leave their guns locked in their personal vehicles on company property. Other states allow employers to restrict their employees from having weapons in their vehicle while on company property. In terms of laws which either allow or prohibit you from openly carrying a gun in public, states generally fall into one of the following four categories:
- Permissive open carry states allow you to carry a gun without a permit or license;
- Licensed open carry states allow you to carry firearms openly, but only after they are issued a permit or license to do so;
- Anomalous open carry states consider carrying a gun openly to be generally lawful under state law, but local governments have the right to pass their own gun laws which are more restrictive compared to the state laws; and
- Non-permissive open carry states where state law prohibits carrying a gun openly, or where it is only legal in limited circumstances, such as hunting or self-defense.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Issues With Gun Control Laws?
Violations of gun control laws are considered to be serious crimes, resulting in consequences such as:
- A prison term of more than one year;
- Considerably heavy monetary fines;
- Parole or probation periods; and/or
- The complete loss of gun ownership rights, under specific circumstances.
If you are facing criminal gun possession charges, it is important to contact a local criminal defense attorney. An experienced attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options under your state’s specific gun control laws.