"I can't answer the question of incorporation other than to refer to precedent," she said.
Sotomayor earlier acknowledged the Supreme Court's 2008 decision that overturned Washington, D.C.'s restrictive handgun law, noting that "it is the law of the land right now in the sense of precedent, that there is an individual right to bear arms as it applies to government, federal government regulation," she said.
The judge reiterated her stance that judges don't "make law," but instead look at the set of facts before them and weigh them against the constitution and precedent.
She noted Justice Antonin Scalia's view in the Washington, D.C., case that states have long regulated gun possession. "He wasn't suggesting that all regulation was unconstitutional; he was holding in that case that D.C.'s particular regulation was illegal," she said before she pointed out that the federal government and many states also prohibit felons from possessing guns.
"And so it's not that we make a broad policy choice and say, 'This is what we want -- what judges do.' What we look at is what other actors in the system are doing, what their interest in doing it is, and how that fits to whatever situation they think they have to fix, what Congress or state legislature has to fix," she said. "All of that is the court's function, so I can't explain it philosophically. I can only explain it by its setting and what -- what the function of judging is about."
In addition to exchanges on abortion and the Second Amendment, senators again grilled Sotomayor on her past comment that a "wise Latina" judge might arrive at a better conclusion than a white man in some cases.
Asked by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., if she disavowed the comment, Sotomayor said she stands by the statement but added that her "rhetorical flourish" could not be read literally.
"It had a different meaning in the context of the entire speech," in which she also noted that nine white men decided landmark desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education, she said.
"It is clear from the attention that my words have gotten and the manner in which it has been understood by some people that my words failed. They didn't work," Sotomayor admitted.
She pointed to statements by retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and current Justice Samuel Alito to help explain that she didn't intend to suggest that "personal experiences compel results in any way."
"I think life experiences generally -- whether it's that I'm a Latina or was a state prosecutor or have been a commercial litigator or been a trial judge and an appellate judge -- that the mixture of all of those things, the amalgam of them help me to listen and understand."
The bottom line, Sotomayor said, is that judges "rely on the law to command the results in the case. So when one talks about life experiences, and even in the context of my speech, my message was different than I understand my words have been understood by some."
Cornyn also asked Sotomayor if she believes judges can ever change the law -- echoing the Republican concern over so-called activist judges who conservatives charge rule from the bench.
Sotomayor responded that judges "can't change the law, we're not lawmakers."
"But we change our view of how to interpret certain laws based on new facts, new developments of trial theory, considerations o f whether -- what the reliance of society may be on an old rule. We think about whether a rule of law has proven workable. We look at how often the court has affirmed a prior understanding of how to approach an issue. But in those senses there's changes by judges in the popular perception that we're changing the law."