In its first comprehensive look at the Second Amendment right to bear arms, the Supreme Court is expected to rule next week on the constitutionality of Washington, D.C.'s ban on handguns.
The District of Columbia's ban is considered the nation's strictest gun-control law. A ruling by the court to strike it down could threaten other gun-control measures across the country, including laws that ban machine guns or assault weapons.
Although the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791, the court has never definitively said what it means to have the right to keep and bear arms. The current dispute over gun rights raises several important questions.
How have courts previously ruled on questions about the Second Amendment?
The Second Amendment to the Constitution states: "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 most of the last century, the courts have interpreted the amendment to mean that the right to bear arms is a collective right associated with military service, not a personal right.
The last time the Supreme Court ruled on the right to bear arms was in 1939. The justices upheld a federal ban on sawed-off shotguns and implied that the Founding Fathers adopted the Second Amendment to ensure that the then-new federal government could not disarm state militias.
But don't others see gun ownership as an individual right?
Yes. For many, the Second Amendment right to bear arms means the individual right to own and use a gun, if necessary, as a weapon against invaders, or even an oppressive government.
What clues did the justices give about how they might rule when they heard oral arguments in March?
A majority of the justices indicated they believed the right to bear arms is an individual right, like the right of free speech or the right to be free from unreasonable searches. Former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger defended the District's ban. He argued that the amendment was adopted in 1791 to reassure the states that the new federal government could not disarm state militias. But a majority of the justices appeared skeptical.
"If it is limited to state militias, why would they say the right of the people?" Chief Justice John Roberts asked.
Justice Anthony Kennedy added, "In effect, the amendment says we reaffirm the right to have a militia, we've established it, but in addition, there is a right to bear arms."
What's behind the case challenging Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban?
The lawsuit was initially brought by six individuals, including Shelly Parker, a computer software designer who received death threats from a local drug dealer after she organized homeowners to report drug activity in her neighborhood. One night, a drug dealer tried to break into her house and threatened to kill her. Parker chased him away by setting off the burglar alarm. A police officer suggested she get a gun, even though handguns are illegal in the District of Columbia. She joined a lawsuit organized by two local lawyers to challenge the ban.
What do Washington, D.C., officials say about the ban?
The District defends its law, which was passed in 1976, arguing that handguns are responsible for more than 80 percent of the city's murders and most of the city's armed assaults. The city also cites the danger handguns pose to children and to police called into domestic violence situations. The District contends that its residents are allowed to have other firearms at home for self-protection as long as the weapons have trigger locks or are unassembled.
How did the case arrive at the Supreme Court?
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled against the city's gun ban in 2007, becoming the first federal court in modern times to invalidate a gun regulation as an unconstitutional restriction on the right to keep and bear arms. The District appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.
How do gun-control advocates expect the court to rule?
Officials at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said recently that they expect Washington's 32-year-old handgun ban to fall. But they believe that background checks, limits on large-volume gun sales and prohibitions on certain categories of weapons can survive.
As a "thorn in Mayor Fenty's ass" I make it my lot in life to email him on a regular basis, reminding him of exactly HOW ineffective his backing of this "illegal" gun poilcy is NEGATIVELY impacting the lives of those that he took an oath to defend.
He is not serving the public trust, he is breaking it!
Other cities such as Boston, philly and MANY more are already in line with this policy and are just WAITING for the the SCOTUS to uphold this gun ban, so that more of our cities can be disarmed.
Our forefathers created the second amendment FOR EXACTLY THIS SITUATION. TO KEEP ANYONE, INCLUDING OUR OWN GOVT, FROM DISARMING THE PUBLIC!!!!!!!!!
I have one point to bring up here. I live in a suburb of Denver CO, and I have reason to believe that the powers of the military and government are planning for some sort of armed resistance. For the last week or so the military have been running drills in the downtown area with low flying blackhawk helicopters with dual m134 miniguns hanging out of the doors. It has been on the news, and they repeatedly call them anti-terrorism exercises. They repeatedly deny that this has anything to do with the upcoming democratic convention, and support that by saying that there are similar exercises happening in other large cities.
This all began on the same day that I first saw on accurateshooter.com that they were supposed to rule on Heller v DC that day. The message was later changed to "soon" and then the black helicopters started flying really really low in numbers with miniguns.
Now, I realize that I sound like some sort of conspiracy theorist, but IF the s***storm were brewing, wouldn't that be what you would start looking out for? Personally, I haven't seen any domestic terrorism that was fought with helicopters with miniguns in an urban situation. Not on our soil. It looks to me like the armament it takes to mow down a large group of citizen based resistance, er, um, Terrorism! It looks to me like we should be very concerned.
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They repeatedly say "...there is nothing to be concerned about". I for one am ill at ease.
Fritz, as a government liason officer, I can assure you that you and the rest of Denver have absolutely nothing to worry about. those helos are only carrying tactical battlefield nukes meant ONLY for terrorists in the event that they should strike here.
Pay no attention to the division of armed US marines in MOP gear, they just like the feel of the suits while carrying full packs.
Our Abrahm tanks are ONLY HALF full of HEAT and SABOT rounds.
I repeat, we are FULLY prepared for NOTHING to happen here-hence the exercises.
Thank you for your cooperation.