United States v. Miller

Following is the case brief for United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939)

Case Summary of United States v. Miller:

  • Respondent Miller was charged criminally for transporting a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun in interstate commerce.
  • The district court dismissed the charges as in violation of the Second Amendment.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court reversed.  It held that the Second Amendment does not protect a person’s right to keep and bear a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun, because such a gun has no reasonable relationship to the preservation of a well-regulated militia.

United States v. Miller Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Respondent Miller and Frank Layton were charged with violating the National Firearms Act by transporting a sawed-off double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun in interstate commerce.  Miller and Layton moved to dismiss the charge, alleging that the Act usurped the State’s police power, and that it violates the Second Amendment.

Procedural History:

  • The District Court dismissed the charges, finding that the Act violated the Second Amendment.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal.

Issue and Holding:

Did the charge for transporting a sawed-off shotgun under the National Firearms Act violate the Second Amendment?  No.


The decision of the District Court for the Western District of Arkansas is reversed.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

A weapon that has no reasonable relationship to the effectiveness of a well-regulated militia under the Second Amendment can be regulated by the government.


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.”  Because there is no evidence in this case that a sawed-off shotgun has a reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia, the respondent’s weapon is not covered under the Second Amendment.  The concept of a civilian militia is an often-cited principle in many writings before and after the drafting of the Constitution.  Thus, the charges are appropriate and the district court’s decision must be reversed.


United States v. Miller is a case that comes to the obvious conclusion that the “well regulated Militia” portion to the Second Amendment has meaning.  Unfortunately, the existence of the “well regulated Militia” text in the Second Amendment is something that seems to have been conveniently overlooked by gun advocates and conservative Supreme Court justices for many, many decades.  Based on statistics, that modern reading of the Second Amendment has resulted in many more gun deaths in the United States compared to other industrialized nations around the world.

Student Resources:

Read the Full Court Opinion