The Delaware Supreme Court issued an important decision a few days ago on the right to bear arms outside one’s home. This right includes at its core the right to self defense which is a natural right that every person is born with–an exalted right not shared with many of our laws. Thus, the importance of this decision and this bedrock topic both transcend the corporate and commercial issues that are the typical fare of these pages.
The High Court’s ruling in Bridgeville Rifle and Pistol Club, Ltd. v. Small, Del. Supr., No. 15, 2017 (Dec. 7, 2017), was based on Article I, Section 20 of the Delaware Constitution which expressly provides for much broader rights to bear arms as compared to the analogous provision in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Although the specific focus of the court’s opinion, which is 143-pages long when the majority opinion and the dissent are combined, was the invalidation of regulations that in substance eviscerated the right to bear arms in state parks and forests, the court’s scholarly analysis and explication of fundamental principles has far-reaching applicability.
For example, the Delaware Constitution provides for the right to keep and bear arms for the protection of self, home, family, state and for recreational and hunting purposes. Those rights were added to our state constitution at Article I, Section 20, in 1987, but there has been doubt in some circles if those words really “meant what they said.”
In sum, a majority of the Delaware Supreme Court has now established that Article I, Section 20 means, among other things, that the natural right to defend oneself, recognized in the Delaware Constitution through the right to bear arms, extends beyond the home. Although it is not an unfettered right, and reasonable restrictions can be imposed, as of last week state agencies cannot impose regulations that have the net effect of eliminating or eviscerating the right to bear arms in state parks and forests.
It would be easy to write a law review article about the 143-page decision, that was buttressed by the 2014 Delaware Supreme Court decision in Doe v. Wilmington Housing Authority, that the author of these pages also argued–but that law review article will need to wait. The Doe case, also highlighted on these pages, recognized a right to bear arms outside one’s home, but this Bridgeville decision provides more doctrinal underpinning and a more thorough analysis of the reasons why this fundamental right extends beyond the home.