shooters corner

History of the ruling on DC Gun Ban court case


No ruling on D.C.'s gun ban today

June 23, 2008 - 10:24am
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court won't give its ruling in the D.C. gun ban case Monday.

The court has scheduled a special session for Wednesday.

The law, which banned private ownership of handguns in the District, was taken to the Supreme Court after the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the law violates the Second Amendment.

The crux of the argument is to focus on whether the Second Amendment guarantees the individual right to bear arms or protects the right of states to maintain militias.

This is the high court's first comprehensive review of the Second Amendment. The court's ruling will have ramifications across the country.

D.C.'s ban, which is the toughest in the country, has attracted attention from states across the nation. Virginia, Arkansas and Texas are joining in the challenge of the ban, while Maryland, New York, Illinois and Hawaii, are backing the measure.

While city leaders say the law keeps guns off District streets, police have confiscated numerous weapons that have been traced to shops in Maryland and Virginia. District police seized 2,924 guns in 2007 alone.

Back in March, when the case came before the court, here were some of the arguments:

"At the end of the day, I think, however one resolves those great theoretical and constitutional issues, we come down to the fact that this is an extremely reasonable law. Because the District of Columbia really thought this through. And they allowed rifles and shotguns. They believe in the right of people to be able to defend their homes."
- Lawyer Walter Dellinger, representing the District of Columbia

"This morning the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether or not the Second Amendment actually means anything. Is it some sort of a relic of the past that has no operative force today? Does it guarantee a right to follow military orders, or does it do what most Americans understand it does, guarantees an individual right of American citizens to defend themselves and their families in their own homes with simple, ordinary firearms, including handguns."
- Lawyer Alan Gura, representing clients seeking to overturn the District of Columbia gun ban

"I have said many, many times as police chief in Washington, D.C., and after policing here in this city for nearly 18 years that the issue with handguns to me is very clear. A weapon that is easily concealed, that can be taken inside of schools, inside of churches, inside of government buildings without anyone's knowledge ... is something that we don't want in the District of Columbia."
- Police Chief Cathy Lanier

"The Constitution does not end at the borders of the District of Columbia. The citizens of Washington, D.C., enjoy all the constitutional rights that every citizen enjoys, including the right to shoot and bear arms."
- Clark Neily, co-counsel

Supreme Court says Americans have right to guns
June 26, 2008 - 4:00pm

WASHINGTON (AP) - Americans can keep guns at home for self-defense, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday in the justices' first-ever pronouncement on the meaning of gun rights under the Second Amendment.

The court's 5-4 ruling struck down the District of Columbia's ban on handguns. The decision went further than even the Bush administration wanted, but probably leaves most federal firearms restrictions intact.

District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty responded with a plan to require residents of the nation's capital to register their handguns. "More handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence," Fenty said.

The court had not conclusively interpreted the Second Amendment since its ratification in 1791. The amendment reads: "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."

The basic issue for the justices was whether the amendment protects an individual's right to own guns no matter what, or whether that right is somehow tied to service in a state militia.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that an individual right to bear arms is supported by "the historical narrative" both before and after the Second Amendment was adopted.

The Constitution does not permit "the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home," Scalia said. The court also struck down Washington's requirement that firearms be equipped with trigger locks or kept disassembled, but left intact the licensing of guns.

Scalia noted that the handgun is Americans' preferred weapon of self-defense in part because "it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police."

Scalia's opinion dealt almost exclusively with self-defense in the home, acknowledging only briefly in his lengthy historical analysis that early Americans also valued gun rights because of hunting.

The brevity of Scalia's treatment of gun ownership for hunting and sports-shooting is explained by the case before the court. The Washington law at issue, like many gun control laws around the country, concerns heavily populated areas, not hunting grounds.

In a dissent he summarized from the bench, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the majority "would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons."

He said such evidence "is nowhere to be found."

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a separate dissent in which he said, "In my view, there simply is no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas."

Joining Scalia were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. The other dissenters were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter.

Gun rights supporters hailed the decision. "I consider this the opening salvo in a step-by-step process of providing relief for law-abiding Americans everywhere that have been deprived of this freedom," said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association.

The NRA will file lawsuits in San Francisco, Chicago and several of its suburbs challenging handgun restrictions there based on Thursday's outcome.

Chicago mayor Richard Daley said he didn't know how the high court ruling would affect the city, but said that the ruling was "a very frightening decision." He predicted an end to Chicago's handgun ban would spark new violence and force the city to raise taxes to pay for new police.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a leading gun control advocate in Congress, criticized the ruling. "I believe the people of this great country will be less safe because of it," she said.

The capital's gun law was among the nation's strictest.

Dick Anthony Heller, 66, an armed security guard, sued the District after it rejected his application to keep a handgun at his Capitol Hill home a short distance from the Supreme Court.

"I'm thrilled I am now able to defend myself and my household in my home," Heller said shortly after the opinion was announced.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in Heller's favor and struck down Washington's handgun ban, saying the Constitution guarantees Americans the right to own guns and that a total prohibition on handguns is not compatible with that right.

The issue caused a split within the Bush administration. Vice President Dick Cheney supported the appeals court ruling, but others in the administration feared it could lead to the undoing of other gun regulations, including a federal law restricting sales of machine guns. Other laws keep felons from buying guns and provide for an instant background check.

Thursday's decision was embraced by the president, said White House press secretary Dana Perino. "This has been the administration's long-held view," Perino said. "The president is also pleased that the court concluded that the D.C. firearm laws violate that right."

White House reaction was restrained. "We're pleased that the Supreme Court affirmed that the Second Amendment protects the right of Americans to keep and bear arms," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

Scalia said nothing in Thursday's ruling should "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."

In a concluding paragraph to the his 64-page opinion, Scalia said the justices in the majority "are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country" and believe the Constitution "leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns."

The law adopted by Washington's city council in 1976 bars residents from owning handguns unless they had one before the law took effect. Shotguns and rifles may be kept in homes, if they are registered, kept unloaded and either disassembled or equipped with trigger locks.

Opponents of the law have said it prevents residents from defending themselves. The Washington government says no one would be prosecuted for a gun law violation in cases of self-defense.

The last Supreme Court ruling on the topic came in 1939 in U.S. v. Miller, which involved a sawed-off shotgun. Constitutional scholars disagree over what that case means but agree it did not squarely answer the question of individual versus collective rights.

Forty-four state constitutions contain some form of gun rights, which are not affected by the court's consideration of Washington's restrictions.

The case is District of Columbia v. Heller, 07-290.
D.C. approves new gun laws

July 15, 2008 - 6:58pm

WASHINGTON (AP) - The District of Columbia Council has approved new firearms legislation that will allow residents to begin applying for handgun permits this week.

Tuesday's unanimous vote comes as officials try to comply with last month's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the city's 32-year-old ban on handguns.

The emergency legislation will allow handguns to be kept in the home if they are used only for self-defense and carry fewer than 12 rounds of ammunition. It will remain in effect for 90 days; the council expects to begin work in September on permanent legislation.

Though residents will be allowed to begin applying this week for handgun permits, city officials have said the entire process could take weeks or months.