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Behind Supreme Court case: Do gun rights protect against tyranny?

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Mr. Schmutter said the Second Amendment is “the very last line in the defense of American liberty.”

To gun control specialists this argument is deeply troubling. They worry that any armed person with a beef against the government will look to the Second Amendment for encouragement to lock and load and then rain down armed force in the face of what he or she perceives as “tyranny.”

How to define 'tyranny'

“In a world in which ‘tyranny’ means many different things to many different people, it is of paramount importance that the court choose its words carefully when discussing just what is, and what is not, protected by the Second Amendment,” wrote John Schreiber in a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence.

“The Framers plainly did not envision ad hoc groups of armed individuals beyond state control (i.e. a ‘citizens’ militia’) as a constitutional check on tyranny,” Mr. Schreiber wrote. “They saw them as unruly mobs that must be quelled.”

Although it was not discussed during oral argument in the Chicago case, Justice Antonin Scalia addressed the issue briefly in his majority decision in the high court’s 2008 ruling striking down Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban.

“If … the Second Amendment right is no more than the right to keep and use weapons as a member of an organized militia [and] the organized militia is the sole institutional beneficiary of the Second Amendment’s guarantee – it does not assure the existence of a ‘citizens’ militia’ as a safeguard against tyranny,” Justice Scalia wrote.

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