“Given the reference to ‘a well regulated Militia’ and ‘the security of a free State,’ the ACLU has long taken the position that the Second Amendment protects a collective right rather than an individual right,” the ACLU says. “In striking down Washington D.C.’s handgun ban by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court’s decision in D.C. v. Heller held for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, whether or not associated with a state militia. The ACLU disagrees with the Supreme Court’s conclusion about the nature of the right protected by the Second Amendment.” It adds, however, that “particular federal or state laws on licensing, registration, prohibition, or other regulation of the manufacture, shipment, sale, purchase or possession of guns may raise civil liberties questions.”
On its face, that position is quite different from what Ira Glasser, then the ACLU’s executive director, told me back in 1991, 17 years before the Supreme Court first explicitly recognized that the Second Amendment imposes limits on gun control legislation. Glasser conceded that the Second Amendment protects an individual right, but he said that still leaves room for government regulation. If the federal government tried to completely ban private gun ownership, he said, the ACLU would challenge that policy.
In a subsequent letter to the editor, Glasser elaborated on his views, which he said were consistent with ACLU policy:
Once we concede the constitutionality of government bans on some weapons, we are not talking any longer about whether the government may restrict weapons but rather what constitutes a reasonable restriction. If the Second Amendment provides no basis for such distinctions, as it does not, then it is up to the legislature.