The Waite Court (1874–88)

Criminal Justice

In what decision did the Waite Court refuse to extend the Second Amendment right to bear arms to the states?

The Waite Court unanimously ruled in Presser v. Illinois (1886) that the Second Amendment “right to bear arms” did not provide protection to a man who led a group of four hundred men in an armed procession. An Illinois statute limited persons, other than the regular organized volunteer militia, from gathering together in a drill or parade with firearms without a license from the governor.

Harold Presser led his group of armed men without obtaining a permit and was convicted for violating the Illinois law. The Court reasoned that Presser could not rely on the Second Amendment in part because the amendment did not extend to the states. The Court, in an opinion written by Justice William Woods, stated: “We think it clear that the sections under consideration, which only forbid bodies of men to associate together as military organizations, or to drill or parade with arms in cities and towns unless authorized by law, do not infringe the right of the people to keep and bear arms. But a conclusive answer to the contention that this amendment prohibits the legislation in question lies in the fact that the amendment is a limitation only upon the power of congress and the national government, and not upon that of the state.”


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