What rights and freedoms does the Bill of Rights protect and why are they important?
Text, Origins, and Meaning
History and Recent Implications
The Second Amendment
The Third Amendment
A Brief History
Cornell Law University
Overview of the 4th Amendment
4th Amendment: Cornell Law University
Pro 2nd Amendment
Con 2nd Amendment
The next three amendments protect citizens from various kinds of government abuse. All three reflect the experience of American colonists under British rule.
Second Amendment: The Right to Bear Arms During colonial times, Great Britain had used a standing, or permanent, army to keep order in the colonies. After winning their independence, Americans were suspicious of standing armies. They preferred to rely on volunteer state militias to protect the new nation. 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 [limited].”
The meaning of this amendment has been much debated. Some people argue that it protects the right of people to own guns only if they are part of an organized militia. An example of such a militia is today’s National Guard. Others believe that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to own weapons for their own self-defense. In 2008, the Supreme Court supported this view in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller. The Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own a gun for personal use, including self-defense inside the home.
Third Amendment: Quartering Troops in Homes Before the American Revolution, Great Britain had forced colonists to house British soldiers. The Third Amendment gave Americans the right to refuse such requests.
Today, soldiers are not quartered in homes. The Third Amendment remains important, however, as a warning to the government to respect the privacy of people’s homes. As Supreme Court justice Joseph Story said, “A man’s house shall be his own castle, privileged against all civil and military intrusion.”
Fourth Amendment: Searches and Seizures The Fourth Amendment protects people and their belongings from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” A seizure is the act of forcibly taking control of a person or property. Before arresting a person or searching someone’s home, police must show a judge that there is good reason for such action. The judge then issues a warrant that says exactly who will be arrested or what will be searched.
Nowhere in the Fourth Amendment, however, does it say that a warrant is required for every government search. Many Supreme Court cases have held that warrants are not always necessary. But there must be probable cause, or a strong reason for the search.
The Fourth Amendment also does not define “unreasonable search.” The Supreme Court provided a definition in 1967 when it held that the search must respect an individual’s right to privacy.