United States v. Miller: Individual Second Amendment Right (05/15/1939)


United States v. Miller

Does the Second Amendment protect an individual’s right to keep and bear arms?

Argued: 03/30/1939

Decision Date: 05/15/1939

Decision Record: 8-0; no

Justices Majority: Charles Hughes, James McReynolds, Pierce Butler, Harlan Stone, Owen Roberts, Hugo Black, Stanley Reed, Felix Frankfurter

Justices Dissenting: None

Justice William Douglas did not partake in this decision.

Effect of the Decision

This case holds that the Second Amendment does not ensure the protection of every individual’s right to bear a sawed-off double barrel shotgun.

In Favor

Attorney Gordan Dean argued in representation of the United States.


Jack Miller and Frank Layton were the appellee.


The decision for the United States was a unanimous one. The opinion was written by Justice James McReynolds. He wrote, “Every officer and soldier shall appear at his respective muster-field on the day appointed, by eleven o’clock in the forenoon, armed, equipped, and accoutred, as follows: . . . every non-commissioned officer and private with a good, clean musket carrying an ounce ball, and three feet eight inches long in the barrel, with a good bayonet and iron ramrod well fitted thereto, a cartridge box properly made, to contain and secure twenty cartridges fitted to his musket, a good knapsack and canteen, and moreover, each non-commissioned officer and private shall have at every muster one pound of good powder, and four pounds of lead, including twenty blind cartridges, and each serjeant shall have a pair of moulds fit to cast balls for their respective companies, to be purchased by the commanding officer out of the monies arising on delinquencies. Provided, That the militia of the counties westward of the Blue Ridge, and the counties below adjoining thereto, shall not be obliged to be armed with muskets, but may have good rifles with proper accoutrements, in lieu thereof. And every of the said officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates, shall constantly keep the aforesaid arms, accoutrements, and ammunition ready to be produced whenever called for by his commanding officer. If any private shall make it appear to the satisfaction of the court hereafter to be appointed for trying delinquencies under this act that he is so poor that he cannot purchase the arms herein required, such court shall cause them to be purchased out of the money arising from delinquents.

Most if not all of the States have adopted provisions touching the right to keep and bear arms. Differences in the language employed in these have naturally led to somewhat variant conclusions concerning the scope of the right guaranteed. But none of them seems to afford any material support for the challenged ruling of the court below.”

My Opinion:

In this case, I agree with the court’s decision. The Second Amendment gives you the right to bear arms, however, the ownership of a sawed-off double barrel shotgun without registration does not help maintain an effective state militia, which is one of the purposes of the Second Amendment. If the possession of such a weapon does not meet the purpose of the Second Amendment, his/her right has not been violated, especially since the shotgun has not even been registered. The Second Amendment does not necessarily mean that everyone can walk around in public carrying a gun or a weapon, nevertheless an unregistered one.

*Justice Leaning L=Left, LC=Left of Center, C=Center, RC=Right of Center, R=Right

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *