Supremes Uphold Individual Handgun Ownership Right

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:

5 thoughts on “Supremes Uphold Individual Handgun Ownership Right

  1. Notice that the majority decision also kept their supremeships safely ensconsed in a building under strict gun control – cannot get in there w/o going thru a metal detector.

    Well, I hope they enjoy their gun-controlled environment while the ordinary citizens of DC’s Ward Eight – a couple of mile from the SC’s very, very well protected, gun-free building – continue to dodge bullets from legal and illegal guns.

  2. Interesting coment, Hart. I hope you are equally as cynical when the crime rate starts falling off in DC as it has everywhere else where foolish gun-control laws have been repealed.

    The really scary thing is the incredible fact that four of the 9 justices can’t even read the Constitution. Woe unto us if Obama ever gets in and appoints another Constitutional illiterate to that court!

  3. Hart & Bob —– thanks for joining the conversation.

    We got lucky on this one … even Scalia’s opinion leaves room for what I consider unconstitutional restrictions on gun ownership. As I have said before, when it comes to our constitutional rights, I am a strict constructionist (a real one, not an issue by issue flip-flopper, which is a good description of all nine of the current justices).

    The Second Amendment, in this regard, says: “… the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

    By way of analogy to Associate Justice Hugo Black’s famous line regarding freedom of speech (“no law means … no law”), I read “shall not be infringed” to mean (surprise) “shall not be infringed”!

    And that means no infringement of the right to keep or BEAR arms. Not one of the current justices did (nor apparently would they) interpret the second amendment according to its plain meaning.

    American government has a long history of infringing on our rights generally and in particular with the right to keep and bear arms. This decision, as good as it was, is a minor retrenchment of the inexorable trend by which government in this country, at every level, exerts more and more control over We the People.

  4. Pingback: What now for the Second Amendment & Gun Control? « Free Legal Advice Isn't Worth What You Pay For It …

  5. Pingback: Summary of 2nd Amendment & Gun Control Posts | Free Legal Advice Isn't Worth What You Pay For It ...

Leave a Reply to Hartmut Lau Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s