Debating the 27 words of the Second Amendment

As the gun debate heats up in Washington, the 27 words of the Second Amendment are really at the heart of this political fight. While all sides admit guns can be regulated, the debate is over what kind of firearms can or should be banned.

The Second Amendment is the foundation of gun ownership in America. The amendment reads: "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."

Gun rights advocates point to the last part—"shall not be infringed"— as grounds for opposing new gun legislation.

"It guarantees to the people a right to keep and bear arms—at least in their homes for lawful purposes, such as self-defense," said James Jacobs, an NYU criminal law professor. "No right is unlimited."

Jacobs, the author of Can Gun Control Work?, said the Supreme Court has upheld what they describe as longstanding and lawful limitations on individuals' Second Amendment rights, such as banning guns for those convicted of a felony, preventing where guns can be carried, and prohibiting what the court describes as "dangerous and unusual weapons" that aren't in common use at the time.

"The Supreme Court has said this is a fundamental, individual right," said Amy Swearer, a visiting legal fellow at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation. She added that prohibiting guns that aren't in common use doesn't apply to semiautomatic weapons like the one used in the Florida shooting.

"When you look around at the guns that are in common usage in America, it includes semi-automatic rifles," Swearer said. "Thus far there [have] been no rulings that [a semi-automatic rifle] is 'unusually dangerous.'"

Both Jacobs and Swearer said the Supreme Court has been receptive to bans of certain weapons before, such as machine guns and fully automatic rifles. In fact, the late conservative justice Antonin Scalia said that Second Amendment rights are not unlimited.

But the Supreme Court only interprets the laws. It is up to Congress to actually write them. And right now, no specific weapons bans are anywhere on the horizon.