In a major victory for the rights of individuals, the U.S. Supreme Court today held in a 5-4 decision that the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does indeed protect the right of individuals to “bear arms” even if they are not part of a “well-regulated militia”.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for a sharply divided court that the constitution must be read to protect the right of individuals to possess handguns for self-defense in their homes.
The case, District of Columbia v. Heller, Docket No. 07-290, considered a 1976 Washington D.C. ordinance which established a complete ban on the private ownership of handguns (except for a “grandfather” provision which permitted continued ownership by those who owned handguns prior to the passage of the ordinance). The ordinance allowed ownership of rifles and shotguns, but only if they are registered, kept unloaded and are either disassembled or equipped with trigger locks.
The Supreme Court decision also struck down the requirement that long guns be kept disassembled or equipped with trigger locks.
Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas formed the five vote majority. Justices John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented.
The decision left intact D.C.’s firearms registration requirement and Scalia’s opinion specifically noted that the decision was not intended to “cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.”
Although other cases have touched on the issue, this is the first definitive U.S. Supreme Court interpretation of the 2nd Amendment’s “right to bear arms” provision since it was adopted in 1791.
Proponents of gun control have long relied on the introductory clause of the amendment to argue that the individual right to bear arms is limited to circumstances in which the individual is part of “a well-regulated militia”. Gun rights advocates have contended that the introductory clause is nothing more than an explanation of why the individual right to bear arms is guaranteed.
You can bet this decision will generate a lot of whining from the (mostly liberal) supporters of gun control (which, in fact, has already started). And a lot of chest thumping from the (mostly conservative) supporters of individual gun owners (which has also already started). From my (mostly Libertarian) perspective, this is a good decision in favor of individual rights and against excessive government restriction of those rights.
The slip opinion of the decision is at:
The initial Associated Press article announcing the decision can be found at:
The Second Amendment says in full:
“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.”
For a pre-Heller discussion of the meaning of the 2nd Amendment, see: