On Tuesday, March 18th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in District of Columbia v. Heller. It will be the Court’s first evaluation of the Second Amendment in almost 70 years, and it raises a question that has been long and passionately debated: whether the amendment provides an individual right to possess guns or a state’s right to form a militia, such as a National Guard unit. We ran this two weeks ago, but since the case is being argued tomorrow we thought we’d remind you:
The District of Columbia bans possession of handguns, and bans anyone from carrying a handgun or other deadly or dangerous weapon without a license within its borders (the “Gun Ban”). It also requires that any firearms which may be kept within the District, such as rifles, be kept either disassembled or with a trigger lock. These are some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation. In 2003, Mr. Heller filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia claiming that these laws violate his Second Amendment right to “keep and bear Arms.” The District Court found that the Second Amendment does not give an individual a right to gun ownership except where the individual is a member of an organized militia, but the Court of Appeals reversed the decision. It found that handguns are lineal descendents of the pistols in use at the time of the American Revolution, and held, therefore, that the Gun Ban is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case on March 18th.
The Supreme Court has not taken a Second Amendment case since 1939, and has never decided whether the Second Amendment confers a right to bear arms upon individuals or only upon the militias it refers to in its opening clause. In the intervening 69 years, the federal and state governments have passed many laws regulating and restricting the ownership and use of guns. Should the Supreme Court uphold the D.C. Circuit’s invalidation of the Gun Ban, it could have a substantial impact on these gun laws and will almost certainly lead to more litigation as gun rights advocates challenge those laws as violating the Second Amendment. If the Court finds that the Gun Ban is constitutional, it will strengthen the ability of government to regulate gun ownership, and may result in more restrictive gun laws across the country.
The full analysis, including a comprehensive set of links to briefs on both sides of the argument, is here: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/07-290.html