District of Columbia v. Heller
read the US Supreme Court decision here
Excerpted from wikipedia...
District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) is a landmark legal case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm for private use in federal enclaves. A ruling on states has yet to be made. It is the first Supreme Court case in United States history to directly address whether the right to keep and bear arms is a right of individuals in addition to a collective right that applies to state-regulated militias.
On June 27, 2008, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Parker v. District of Columbia. The Court of Appeals had struck down provisions of the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975 as unconstitutional, determined that handguns are “arms” for the purposes of the Second Amendment, found that the District of Columbia’s regulations act was an unconstitutional banning, and struck down the portion of the regulations act that requires all firearms including rifles and shotguns be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.”
In February 2003, six residents of Washington, D.C. filed a lawsuit in the District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the constitutionality of provisions of the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975, a local law (part of the District of Columbia Code) enacted pursuant to District of Columbia home rule. This law restricted residents from owning handguns, excluding those grandfathered in by registration prior to 1975 and those possessed by active and retired law enforcement officers. The law also required that all firearms including rifles and shotguns be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.” The District Court dismissed the lawsuit.
On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed the dismissal in a 2-1 decision. The Court of Appeals struck down provisions of the Firearms Control Regulations Act as unconstitutional.
The court’s opinion first addressed whether appellants have standing to sue. The court concluded that of the six plaintiffs, only Heller - who applied for a handgun permit but was denied - had standing.
The court then held that the Second Amendment “protects an individual right to keep and bear arms”, saying that the right was “premised on the private use of arms for activities such as hunting and self-defense, the latter being understood as resistance to either private lawlessness or the depredations of a tyrannical government (or a threat from abroad).” They also noted that though the right to bear arms also helped preserve the citizen militia, “the activities [the Amendment] protects are not limited to militia service, nor is an individual’s enjoyment of the right contingent upon his or her continued or intermittent enrollment in the militia.” The court determined that handguns are “Arms” and concluded that thus they may not be banned by the District of Columbia; however, they said that Second Amendment rights are subject to reasonable restrictions.
The court also struck down the portion of the law that requires all firearms including rifles and shotguns be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.” The District argued that there is an implicit self-defense exception to these provisions, but the D.C. Circuit rejected this view, saying that the requirement amounted to a complete ban on functional firearms and prohibition on use for self-defense.
The defendants petitioned the United States Supreme Court to hear the case. The plaintiffs did not oppose but, in fact, welcomed the petition. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case on November 20, 2007.
On June 26, 2008, by a 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the federal appeals court ruling, striking down the D.C. gun law. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, stated, “In sum, we hold that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense ... We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.” This ruling upholds the first federal appeals court ruling ever to void a law on Second Amendment grounds.M
The Court based its reasoning on the grounds:
that the operative clause of the Second Amendment - “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” - is controlling and refers to a pre-existing right of individuals to possess and carry personal weapons for self-defense and intrinsically for defense against tyranny, based on the bare meaning of the words, the usage of “the people” elsewhere in the Constitution, and historical materials on the clause’s original public meaning;
that the prefatory clause, which announces a purpose of a “well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State”, comports with, but does not detract from, the meaning of the operative clause and refers to a well-trained citizen militia, which “comprised all males physically capable of acting in concert for the common defense”, as being necessary to the security of a free polity;
that historical materials support this interpretation, including “analogous arms-bearing rights in state constitutions” at the time, the drafting history of the Second Amendment, and interpretation of the Second Amendment “by scholars, courts, and legislators” through the late nineteenth century;
that none of the Supreme Court’s precedents forecloses the Court’s interpretation, specifically United States v. Cruikshank (1875), Presser v. Illinois (1886), nor United States v. Miller (1939).
However, “[l]ike most rights, the Second Amendment is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” The Court’s opinion, although refraining from an exhaustive analysis of the full scope of the right, “should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
Therefore, the District of Columbia’s handgun ban is unconstitutional, as it “amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of ‘arms’ that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense”. Similarly, the requirement that any firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock is unconstitutional, as it “makes it impossible for citizens to use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense.”
Issues addressed by the majority:
The opinion of the court, delivered by Justice Scalia (joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. and by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.) states...
The Second Amendment is an individual right intimately tied to the natural right of self-defense.
The “people” to whom the Second Amendment right is accorded are the same “people” who enjoy First and Fourth Amendment protection.
A total ban on operative handguns in the home is unconstitutional, as the ban runs afoul of both the self-defense purpose of the Second Amendment - a purpose not previously articulated by the Court - since handguns are in common use.
As remedy, the District must permit [Heller] to register his handgun and must issue him a license to carry it in the home.
Regulation is ok as, “prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms” are not unconstitutional.
Machine guns may not share the same protection as handguns, as they are not “in common use.”
The Court did not address which level of judicial review should be used by lower courts in deciding future cases claiming infringement of the right to keep and bear arms.
Justice John Paul Stevens (joined by Justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer) stated that the court’s judgment was “a strained and unpersuasive reading” which overturned longstanding precedent, and that the court had “bestowed a dramatic upheaval in the law.”
Justice Breyer filed a separate dissenting opinion, joined by the same dissenting Justices, which sought to demonstrate that, starting from the premise of an individual-rights view, the District of Columbia’s handgun ban and trigger lock requirement would nevertheless be permissible limitations on the right. The Breyer dissent also objected to the “common use” distinction used by the majority to distinguish handguns from machineguns.