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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Miller - 307 U.S. 174, 59 S. Ct. 816 (1939)

Rule:

In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a shotgun having a barrel of less than 18 inches in length has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia, the Second Amendment does not guarantee the right to keep and bear such an instrument.

Facts:

Defendants Jack Miller and Frank Layton were indicted on charges of unlawfully and feloniously transporting in interstate commerce, from Oklahoma to Arkansas, an unregistered double barrel 12-gauge shot gun having a barrel less than 18 inches in length, in violation of the National Firearms Act, 26 U.S.C.S. § 1132c et seq. ("Act"). At trial in federal district court, defendants filed a demurrer to the indictment, alleging that the Act was not a revenue measure but an attempt to usurp police power reserved to the States, and was therefore unconstitutional. Defendants further argued that the Act violated the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. The district court held that the section of the Act that made it unlawful to transport an unregistered firearm in interstate commerce was unconstitutional as violative of the Second Amendment. It accordingly sustained the demurrer and quashed the indictment. The Government took a direct appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Issue:

Was the Act unconstitutional?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the district court's judgment and remanded the matter for further proceedings. The Court first ruled that, in light of a series of Court precedents, defendants' objection that the Act usurped police power reserved to the States was plainly untenable. The Court went on to hold that the Second Amendment did not guarantee defendants' right to keep and bear a shotgun having a barrel of less than 18 inches in length. The weapon was not part of any ordinary military equipment and its use could not contribute to the common defense. The Court found that there was no evidence that possession of such shotgun had any relationship to the preservation of a militia.

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