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Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Second Amendment Challenge to D.C. Gun Ban

November 20th, 2007 by Alan Gura

Washington, D.C.—Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear the case of Heller v. District of Columbia, and decide whether the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right to own guns.  At issue is a 31-year-old Washington, D.C. law banning handguns and requiring that all shotguns and rifles be kept unloaded and either trigger-locked or disassembled at all times.  There is no exception for self-defense.

Alan Gura, lead counsel for the Heller plaintiffs said, “The Bill of Rights does not end at the District of Columbia’s borders, and it includes the right to keep and bear arms.  After three decades of failure trying to control firearms in the District, it’s time for law-abiding city residents to be able to defend themselves in their homes.  We are confident the Supreme Court will vindicate that right in Washington, D.C., and across the nation.”

Dick Heller, a District resident who works as an armed security guard protecting the lives of various government officials during the day but is forbidden by District law from keeping a handgun at home to protect himself, explained, “I want to be able to defend myself and my wife from violent criminals, and the Constitution says I have a right to do that by keeping a gun in my home.  The police can’t be everywhere, and they can’t protect everyone all the time.  Responsible gun ownership is a basic right we have as American citizens.”

The Supreme Court has not heard a Second Amendment case since 1939, when it issued a confusing and inconclusive decision in a case involving the interstate transportation of a sawed-off shotgun.  The case ended before the defendant had the opportunity to establish whether sawed-off shotguns are covered by the word “arms” in the text of the Amendment.  But regular shotguns, along with rifles and handguns, are precisely the kind of “arms” the Framers had in mind in drafting the Second Amendment.  The District’s functional firearms ban defies the Framers’ obvious intent to ensure that the government could never disarm citizens in America, as other governments have done elsewhere.

Clark Neily, a public interest lawyer specializing in constitutional law cases and co-counsel to the Heller plaintiffs said, “The Second Amendment is every bit as much a part of the Bill of Rights as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion.  The framers of our Constitution made clear that the government has no more business disarming citizens than it has censoring them or telling them what values to hold sacred.”

“The citizens of Washington, D.C. ? indeed, all Americans ? deserve a clear pronouncement from the nation’s highest court on the real meaning of the Second Amendment,” stated Robert Levy, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and co-counsel to the Heller plaintiffs.  Levy added, “Later cases will decide what gun regulations are constitutional, but an outright ban on all functional firearms clearly is not constitutional.”

Heller will likely be the highest-profile case on the Court’s docket this term, and it promises to be among the most closely watched constitutional law cases in decades.  At stake is not just the question of whether people have a constitutional right to own guns, but also the Court’s willingness to stand up for rights that are clearly expressed in the Constitution, even when those rights are strongly opposed by a vocal minority.

Oral argument will most likely be scheduled for March or April, with a decision expected by June 2008.

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