District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) #1

District of Columbia v. Heller: Richard Heller challenged the District’s law banning handguns on Second Amendment grounds. The Court agreed with Heller, finding the ban unconstitutional and holding that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep suitable weapons at home for self-defense unconnected to militia service.

The District of Columbia had one of the strictest gun laws in the country, which included a ban on almost all handguns. Furthermore, long guns had to be kept unloaded, and disassembled or trigger-locked. Richard Heller believed the law made it impossible to defend himself in his home and that it violated the Second Amendment.

The District of Columbia argued that the opening phrase of the amendment, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,” limited the “right of the people” to have weapons only in connection with militia service. The city also pointed out that the law did not ban all guns and that it was a reasonable way to prevent crime.

The Court agreed with Heller and overturned the District’s law. The Court reasoned that the opening clause gave one reason for the Second Amendment, but it did not limit the right listed in the operative clause—the second part of the amendment—to own weapons only for militia service. The Court also reasoned that elsewhere in the Constitution, such as the First, Fourth, and Ninth Amendments, the phrase “the right of the people” is used only to refer to individual rights—that is, rights held by people as individuals.

Finally, the Court reasoned that the right to own weapons for self-defense was an “inherent” (in-born) right of all people. “The very text of the Second Amendment implicitly recognizes the pre-existence of the right and declares only that it shall not be infringed.”

Four of the nine Supreme Court Justices dissented. (They disagreed with the Court’s ruling.) Some of the dissenters agreed that the Second Amendment protected an individual right. However, they argued that the scope of that individual right was limited by the amendment’s opening clause. One dissenter agreed that the Second Amendment protected an individual right, but argued that the District law was a reasonable restriction.

One thing is certain. Like all other rights in the Bill of Rights (such as freedom of speech and press), the right to keep and bear arms has limits.

Source: District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) #1
© 2017 Bill of Rights Institute

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