Legal Reference

Guns are now legal in Washington D.C.

District of Columbia v. Heller

This is the Ruling from the Supreme Court on


Friday, June 27, 2008


Court Recognizes Individual Right To Bear Arms

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled the Second Amendment does protect an individual's right to bear arms, striking down the Washington, D.C, ban on handguns. Media accounts of the decision vacillate between the decision's "historic" nature and an expectation it will have "limited impact," at least in the near future.

The AP reports, "Silent on central questions of gun control for two centuries, the Supreme Court found its voice Thursday in a decision affirming the right to have guns for self-defense in the home and addressing a constitutional riddle almost as old as the republic over what it means to say the people may keep and bear arms." The Washington Post reports the "landmark 5 to 4 decision split along ideological grounds and wiped away years of lower court decisions that had held that the intent of the amendment, ratified more than 200 years ago, was to tie the right of gun possession to militia service."

The decision was the lead story on each of the networks, which noted the historic nature of the opinion. ABC World News reported, "Even as it settled the Constitutional question, by striking down Washington, DC's handgun ban, the closely-divided court set off a new debate, about what kinds of gun laws are permissible." The CBS Evening News reported, "This is one for the history books - the first-ever Supreme Court declaration that Americans have the right to own a gun for self-protection."

NBC Nightly News reported, "The decision is a huge victory for advocates of gun rights, and for Dick Heller, of Washington, DC, who challenged the city's strict ban on handguns." USA Today reports the "historic decision Thursday carving out an individual right to gun ownership immediately cast doubt on gun restrictions nationwide, as firearms-rights advocates prepared to file a new round of lawsuits testing the scope of the ruling." The New York Times reports in a front-page story that the court "rejected the view that the Second Amendment's 'right of the people to keep and bear arms' applied to gun ownership only in connection with service in the 'well regulated militia' to which the amendment refers."

The Wall Street Journal reports in a front-page story that the court "stopped short of invalidating other local, state and federal gun regulations." The Washington Times reports Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty "vowed to enact a registration process that would allow the District to regulate gun ownership, while an emboldened National Rifle Association -- the Northern Virginia-based gun lobby that helped make overturning the D.C. ban a cause celebre -- set its sights on new legal fights to free gun owners from government restrictions."

The Christian Science Monitor reports dissenting Justice Stephen Breyer "said the case would spawn unfortunate consequences." Breyer said, "The decision threatens to throw into doubt the constitutionality of gun laws throughout the United States. I can find no sound legal basis for launching the courts on so formidable and potentially dangerous a mission."

Little Immediate Impact Seen. The Wall Street Journal reports the impact of the decision in Washington "will be minimal for one big reason: It will remain almost impossible to buy a gun." Washington has "no federally licensed gun stores, so nowhere in the city can residents buy a handgun legally. Under federal law, buying one in neighboring Maryland or Virginia isn't an option either. If gun dealers sell a firearm to a nonresident, they have to ship it to a licensed dealer in the purchaser's home state, which then conducts the relevant background checks."

The Houston Chronicle reports that in Houston on Thursday "to address 800 law officers attending a state conference on street gangs, the Bush administration's chief firearms-law enforcer said the ruling won't affect how he does his job." Michael Sullivan, acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said, "There is nothing in terms of first blush to say it will significantly change our business."

The New York Times reports most "state and city gun restrictions appear to be allowed under the ruling, including licensing laws, limits on the commercial sale of guns, restrictions on guns in places like schools and government buildings and prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill."

Decision Expected To Spur Challenges In a second front-page story, the Washington Post reports advocacy groups "braced for new skirmishes, both in courts and in legislatures. Gun rights advocates, hailing what they called a historic milestone, immediately targeted other jurisdictions with laws similar to those in the District of Columbia, whose handgun ban was struck down yesterday."

ABC World News reported, "Tomorrow, in San Francisco, the first in an expected avalanche of legal challenges to gun laws as a result of today's ruling. A lawsuit against the city, which bans handguns in public housing."

The Washington Times reports within "minutes of the Supreme Court ruling overturning the District's gun ban, leaders of the National Rifle Association began work on legal challenges against gun restrictions in Chicago and San Francisco, while gun-control groups said the decision would only strengthen their efforts."

The Washington Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, the AP, and Long Island Newsday all cover the fallout from the court's decision.

McCain Welcomes Decision; Obama Ambivalent The AP reports John McCain "welcomed" the decision "invalidating a District of Columbia handgun ban," while Barack Obama "sought to straddle the subject by saying he favors an individual's right to bear firearms as well as a government's right to regulate them."

Case Seen As Scalia's Legacy USA Today reports Justice Scalia "authored one of the most significant rulings ever in a case that was tailor-made for his personal quest: trying to discern the original intention of the men who drafted the Constitution."



News Analysis

Coming Next, Court Fights on Guns in Cities


Published: June 27, 2008

WASHINGTON — The individual right to bear arms identified by the Supreme Court on Thursday will have little practical impact in most of the country, legal experts said, though Washington’s comprehensive ban on handguns used for self-defense in the home will have to be revised, and similar laws in several cities are also vulnerable.

Landmark Ruling Enshrines Right to Own Guns (June 27, 2008) Most state and city gun restrictions appear to be allowed under the ruling, including licensing laws, limits on the commercial sale of guns, restrictions on guns in places like schools and government buildings and prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill. “Dangerous and unusual” weapons can also be banned, although that phrase was not fully defined.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority in the 5-to-4 decision, also suggested that bans on concealed weapons would probably pass — new locution alert — Second Amendment muster. Justice Scalia added that the court’s list of permissible restrictions was not exhaustive.

The legal battlegrounds will be cities with ordinances similar to Washington’s essentially complete ban, most notably Chicago.

“It’s really the municipalities that are the offenders,” said Robert A. Levy, a lawyer on the winning side of the case and an architect of the victorious strategy.

“There is likely to be quite a flood of litigation to try to flesh out precisely what regulations are to be permitted and which ones are not,” Mr. Levy said. “The challenges are likely to be in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Detroit.” In fact, a lawsuit against Chicago’s very restrictive ordinance was filed almost immediately after the court’s decision. Four Chicago residents and two gun rights groups asked the federal district court there to strike down the ordinance.

Adrian M. Fenty, the mayor of Washington, said the city was taking steps to comply with the court’s ruling. Officials here are considering an amnesty period in which handgun owners can register them without penalty, Mr. Fenty said at a news conference.

Mr. Fenty emphasized that it remains illegal to carry handguns outside the home and that only registered guns may be kept at home. Automatic and semiautomatic weapons will generally remain illegal, he said.

In addition to Chicago, as Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote in a dissenting opinion, several of its suburbs in Illinois, including Evanston, Morton Grove, Oak Park, Winnetka and Wilmette, ban the possession of handguns in many settings. Toledo, Ohio, bans some kinds of handguns, Justice Breyer wrote, and San Francisco would have a similar ban had it not been pre-empted by state law.

As the list of affected localities demonstrates, gun control laws of the sort most likely to be affected by Thursday’s decision are almost exclusively urban. Indeed, some 40 states pre-empt local gun regulations, indicating significant tensions between state lawmakers and municipal officials.

The status of laws that ban certain types of weapons is not clear, and that question is also very likely to generate litigation. Six states, Puerto Rico and at least 14 municipalities ban assault weapons and semiautomatic weapons, Justice Breyer wrote.

But Justice Scalia wrote that the Second Amendment’s protections apply only to weapons in common use, like rifles and pistols.

In a statement welcoming the decision, Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman, said the court had “appropriately recognized that the ‘carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons,’ such as machine guns, is not protected.” Mr. Roehrkasse added that the Justice Department would vigorously defend all existing federal firearms laws.

Because the case before the court arose from the District of Columbia and thus involved only federal law, the court did not resolve the important question of whether the Second Amendment’s protections apply to state and local laws. That is incorrect logic. The 14th Amendment says that STATES must also honor the Bill of Rights. Which means STATES have to abide by this ruling

Benna Ruth Solomon, a lawyer for the City of Chicago, said there was, at least for the time being, no doubt about the proper answer to that question.

“As we sit here today,” Ms. Solomon said, “this decision does not apply to the city of Chicago. It does not apply to the states or municipalities. The court has held that on three prior occasions. Those precedents remain good law until the Supreme Court says they do not.”

Those three decisions, from 1875, 1886 and 1894, were listed in the majority opinion. Justice Scalia seemed to cast doubt on their continuing validity in a footnote, saying that one of them “also said that the First Amendment did not apply against the states,” a view later rejected by the court.

Raymond W. Kelly, New York City’s police commissioner, said Thursday’s decision should not undermine restrictions on possessing guns in the city.

“The specifics of this case, as I understand them, were aimed at an absolute prohibition of having a weapon in your home,” Mr. Kelly said. “We have a provision in our law, in our regulations, that allow for a weapon in the home if you have a permit, a premises permit. But there’s no question about it that this decision will generate litigation throughout the country.”

Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s chief executive officer, agreed only with the last statement. He said the city gave out gun permits capriciously, and he predicted that the practice would attract a legal battle.

“We all know how New York City handles that permit list,” Mr. LaPierre said. “If you are rich and famous, or a Wall Street executive or a celebrity or politically connected, you have no problem getting a permit. But if you are an average citizen, you are flat out of luck.”

To that point, Mr. Kelly said the permit system consisted of “common sense regulations” and was well run and fair.

Mr. LaPierre said New York would not be the immediate focus of the association’s legal strategy, which would instead center on cities with handgun bans.

Mr. Levy, the lawyer who represented the plaintiffs who challenged the gun law in Washington, said New York’s ordinance was in practice “not much different” from the one the Supreme Court struck down.

“You can have a gun in New York,” Mr. Levy said, “but you have to jump through a heck of a lot of hoops.”

Al Baker contributed reporting from New York, and Austin Bogues and Ian Urbina from Washington.


Landmark ruling fires challenges to gun laws

By Joan Biskupic and Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court's historic decision Thursday carving out an individual right to gun ownership immediately cast doubt on gun restrictions nationwide, as firearms-rights advocates prepared to file a new round of lawsuits testing the scope of the ruling. Hours after the momentous 5-4 ruling that struck down a ban on handguns in Washington, D.C., gun rights supporters signaled they will challenge gun restrictions in cities and suburbs across the nation.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, established for the first time in U.S. history that the Constitution's Second Amendment gives individuals the right to keep guns at home for self-defense. Yet Scalia noted that a person's right to gun ownership is not unlimited. He said it would not likely override bans on concealed weapons; laws that prohibit felons and the mentally ill from possessing firearms; or those that ban firearms in government buildings and schools.

Beyond that, the court did not address what types of regulations would survive legal challenges. It did not say, for example, whether people have a right to carry guns in their neighborhoods, or keep them in their cars on the way to and from work.

Nevertheless, Thursday's ruling by the conservative-majority court represented a huge breakthrough for gun rights advocates who have long wanted the high court's confirmation that the Second Amendment guarantees individuals — and not just government militias — the right to bear arms.

"This is big," said Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association's executive vice president, who cast the ruling as "the opening salvo" in a series of planned legal challenges aimed at ensuring individual gun rights.

Within days, he said, the NRA will file lawsuits against handgun restrictions in at least six cities: San Francisco, Chicago and the Illinois communities of Wilmette, Evanston, Oak Park and Morton Grove.

San Francisco bans guns in public housing. The other five cities ban handgun ownership, with a few exceptions for police and other public safety officials.

Wilmette, Ill., officials said Thursday that they would suspend the village's 19-year-old handgun ban until the village council could review the court's ruling. Wilmette counsel Timothy Frenzer said the last time a case was brought under the ordinance was in 2004.

In Chicago, which has had a freeze on handgun registrations since 1982, officials vowed to continue enforcing one of the nation's strictest ordinances beyond the D.C. law the high court rejected.

"We do expect these legal challenges," said Benna Ruth Solomon, Chicago's deputy corporation counsel. "But we will vigorously defend our ordinance."

In announcing the court majority's decision before rows of rapt spectators, Scalia stressed an inherent right of self-defense. The ruling was signed by the court's most conservative justices — Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — and vehemently protested by the court's more liberal members — John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

The decision bucked a trend among lower-court judges, who for decades have said the right "to bear arms" related to service in a militia and did not cover individuals. At issue was the not-so-clear language of the Second Amendment: "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."

In his opinion, Scalia wrote, "The enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table. Those include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home."

Scalia noted that "handguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home, and a complete prohibition of their use is invalid."

The dissenting justices, led by Stevens, scoffed at the majority's historical analysis of the Second Amendment. "There is no indication that (the amendment's drafters) intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution," wrote Stevens, who took the rare step of reading from the bench. He listed eight specific grounds on which he believed the majority was wrong.

Stevens warned the ruling would launch new judicial involvement in an issue he said should be left to legislators. "I fear that the district's policy choice may well be just the first of an unknown number of dominoes to be knocked off the table," he wrote.

Disappointment in D.C.

From D.C.'s city hall to the presidential campaign trail, the ruling stirred emotional responses from both sides of the gun debate.

A somber D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said the decision would have consequences for "the entire country." He said that "more handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence."

Fenty said he was directing Police Chief Cathy Lanier to establish new regulations for handgun registration in anticipation of a wave of new gun purchases.

"We will continue vigorously enforcing the District's other gun-control laws and are considering other ways to protect … citizens against the scourge of gun violence," Lanier said. The city also bans automatic and semi-automatic weapons; laws that don't appear to be affected by the ruling.

A short distance down Pennsylvania Avenue, President Bush issued a statement lauding the "historic" decision as "confirming what has always been clear in the Constitution: The Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear firearms."

The Justice Department was "also pleased that the court recognized that, like other constitutional rights, that individual right is 'not unlimited,' " spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.

The presidential candidates also quickly issued statements supporting the court decision. Yet both Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama had to deal with past comments that have put them at odds with gun owners.

McCain upbraided Obama for comments the Democrat made during the primary campaign. "Unlike the elitist view that believes Americans cling to guns out of bitterness, today's ruling recognizes that gun ownership is a fundamental right — sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly," McCain said.

Obama said he had "always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms." However, he added: "I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures."

The McCain campaign called Obama's position a flip-flop, distributing a long memo that included statements from him and his campaign in which Obama backed some gun-control measures and called the D.C. law constitutional.

In the past, however, McCain also has defied the NRA and other gun advocacy groups by lobbying for legislation that would have required background checks for buyers at gun shows.

Gun rights is a big issue in several key election states, including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. Democrat Al Gore's support of gun control in 2000 was widely seen as a reason he did not win West Virginia, Arkansas or his home state of Tennessee.

A broad view of 'militia' The debate over gun rights — a topic that, like abortion and capital punishment, ignites passions — has long been waged in politics, public opinion and lower courts.

The Supreme Court last considered the reach of the Second Amendment in a 1939 case. It did not rule definitively, but its decision was interpreted by a wide swath of lower-court judges to bar an individual right to guns.

Yet the popular notion of a right to arms persisted, as did gun rights advocates' efforts to change the landscape as more conservative jurists took the federal bench.

Thursday's case was brought by Dick Heller, a security guard who wanted a handgun in his Washington, D.C., home for self-defense. Heller had been turned down by D.C. officials under the city's 1976 ban on handguns in the home.

Breaking with most past lower-court rulings, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last year sided with Heller and definitively declared an individual right to own guns. Judge Laurence Silberman, a Ronald Reagan appointee, wrote the decision.

In affirming the D.C. Circuit's ruling, the Scalia majority homed in on key words in the two parts of the Second Amendment: the preface that refers to "a well regulated militia" and the clause "the right of the people to keep and bear arms."

One key to his ruling was Scalia's interpretation of a "militia," which traditionally is a unit outside the regular army and that today could be compared with state National Guard units. He said it covered all able-bodied males acting for the common defense.

"The conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment's ratification," Scalia wrote, "was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty." He stressed that people carried arms outside of organized militias. Beyond that, Scalia said, the preface puts no limits on the second clause referring to the right of the people to bear arms.

The dissenting justices complained about Scalia's reasoning and the myriad questions left open by the ruling. Stevens rejected the idea that the Second Amendment's drafters wanted to limit legislative "authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms" or intended to "enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution."

In a separate dissent, Breyer attacked the majority opinion for its lack of standards and its hurdles for officials trying to fight crime. Breyer noted that handguns are involved in most firearms deaths and injuries in the United States.

"I cannot understand how one can take from the elected branches of government the right to decide whether to insist upon a handgun-free urban populace in the city now facing a serious crime problem," he wrote, criticizing the majority for casting uncertainty over what gun regulations would be permissible.

Scalia said the high court wasn't providing the last word in the Second Amendment's reach. "Since this case represents this court's first in-depth examination of the Second Amendment, one should not expect it to clarify the entire field," he said.

Contributing: Susan Page, David Jackson and Andrea Stone


Supreme Court asserts broad gun rights

The historic 5 to 4 ruling says the right to bear arms applies to individuals.

By Warren Richey | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

from the June 27, 2008 edition

Reporter Warren Richey discusses the US Supreme Court's decision to overturn a handgun ban in the District of Columbia. Washington - Americans have an individual right to possess and use firearms, even when the guns are not related to service in a government militia.

In a historic ruling, the US Supreme Court on Thursday declared 5 to 4 that the Second Amendment's guarantee of a right to "keep and bear arms" means that the government cannot enact an outright ban on certain commonly held weapons or otherwise prevent citizens from having a gun at home for personal protection or other lawful uses.

The landmark constitutional pronouncement came as the nation's highest court struck down a 32-year ban on private possession of handguns in Washington, D.C. The court also invalidated two other strict gun-control measures in the district that required that rifles and shotguns at all times be kept disassembled or secured with a trigger lock. The case is District of Columbia v. Heller.

"We hold that the District's ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion.

The majority justices said the District’s strict gun regulations violated “the right of law-abiding responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.”

Justice Scalia’s majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.

In a dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said the case would spawn unfortunate consequences. “The decision threatens to throw into doubt the constitutionality of gun laws throughout the United States,” Justice Breyer wrote. “I can find no sound legal basis for launching the courts on so formidable and potentially dangerous a mission.”

Scalia and the majority justices declined to spell out precisely the legal standard future courts should use in weighing whether someone’s Second Amendment right had been infringed. But they left no doubt that it is a robust one.

“Under any standards of scrutiny that we have applied to enumerated constitutional rights, banning from the home the most preferred firearm in the nation to keep and use for protection of one’s home and family, would fail constitutional muster,” Scalia wrote.

While the high court struck down the Washington, D.C., regulations, it remains unclear how many other gun-control measures may now be on shaky constitutional ground. Some analysts suggest that a handgun ban in Chicago, similar to the ban in Washington, may emerge as the next constitutional battleground over gun rights.

Scalia sought to address concerns by many critics – and the dissenting justices – that such a ruling might lead to an arms race among American homeowners stocking up with machine guns, grenades, and rocket launchers.

“The right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited,” Scalia wrote. “Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill,” he said. The opinion did not undermine laws “forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings,” he said.

He added that the opinion did not undercut laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

A right to rifles and handguns only?

In addition, in the opinion’s most significant limitation, the majority justices said the Second Amendment provides a right for Americans to possess the sorts of weapons that were in common use at the time of the drafting of the amendment – meaning rifles and handguns. “We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons,’ ” Scalia said.

There are an estimated 200 million privately owned firearms in the United States, including 60 million to 65 million handguns, according to the National Rifle Association.

Guns and gun control has so far not emerged as a significant issue in the presidential campaigns. But the ruling could spark a national debate.

In May, a Harris poll found that 47 percent of Americans viewed the Second Amendment as providing an individual right, while 17 percent believed it safeguarded a collective right permitting states to form and arm militias.

The poll also found that 49 percent of US adults want stricter gun-control laws, down from 69 percent 10 years ago. Twenty percent said they want less strict gun regulations, while 21 percent favored no change.

The Supreme Court last confronted the gun rights issue 69 years ago in a 1939 case called US v. Miller. The decision in that case did not resolve a longstanding debate over the meaning of the Second Amendment and the nature of the rights it purported to protect.

The Second 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.”

Many legal scholars held the view that the amendment only protected the right to keep and bear arms within the context of service in a state militia, such as the current National Guard. But other scholars said that because the amendment speaks of a right of “the people,” the provision was protecting an individual right.

‘No doubt’ of an individual’s right

“There seems to us no doubt, on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms,” Scalia said.

In a dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens took issue with the majority’s conclusion. “The Second Amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia,” Stevens wrote.

“The right the Court announces was not ‘enshrined’ in the Second Amendment by the Framers; it is the product of today’s law-changing decision,” he said.

“Until today, it has been understood that legislatures may regulate the civilian use and misuse of firearms so long as they do not interfere with the preservation of a well-regulated militia,” he said. “The Court’s announcement of a new constitutional right to own and use firearms for private purposes upsets that settled understanding.”

Stevens added, “I fear that the District’s policy choice may well be just the first of an unknown number of dominoes to be knocked off the table.”

Thursday’s decision stems from a lawsuit filed by Dick Anthony Heller, a security guard who lives in Washington, D.C. Mr. Heller wanted to keep a handgun in his home for protection, but the city government refused to issue a permit, citing its strict gun control laws.

Heller sued, charging that the handgun ban and other measures violated his Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

A federal judge threw the case out, ruling that since Heller was not a member of a militia he had no constitutional right to firearms. But that decision was reversed 2-1 by a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The appeals court found that the right to arms established in the Second Amendment is broader than a direct link to a militia.

In appealing to the Supreme Court, lawyers for the city argued that the Second Amendment protects only militia-related firearms rights, not the personal use and possession of firearms. The city’s lawyers said the first clause of the amendment limits the scope of the entire amendment.

Lawyers for Heller characterized the amendment’s first clause as merely a preamble to what they said was the rights-securing language in the second clause.

In Thursday’s decision, the majority justices agreed with Heller’s reading. “Does the preface fit with an operative clause that creates an individual right to keep and bear arms?” Scalia asked in his opinion. “It fits perfectly, once one knows the history that the founding generation knew,” he said.

“That history showed that the way tyrants had eliminated a militia consisting of all the able-bodied men was not by banning the militia but simply by taking away the people’s arms,” he wrote.

In his opinion, Scalia, himself an accomplished hunter, attempted to tackle what will probably emerge as a key debate point among some gun rights advocates.

“It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service – M-16 rifles and the like – may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause,” he wrote. “But as we said, the conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment’s ratification was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty.”

In effect, the high court is saying there is no constitutional right to the private possession of modern, military-grade weapons. “It may be true that no amount of small arms could be useful against modern-day bombers and tanks,” Scalia wrote. “But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right.”


Absence of Gun Shops Limits Ruling's Reach in Capital

By Gary Fields and Louise Radnofsky

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court's decision legalizing handgun ownership in the District of Columbia answers the question of whether individuals have a right to possess firearms. But in the city that spawned the legal challenge, the impact will be minimal for one big reason: It will remain almost impossible to buy a gun.

Washington has no federally licensed gun stores, so nowhere in the city can residents buy a handgun legally. Under federal law, buying one in neighboring Maryland or Virginia isn't an option either. If gun dealers sell a firearm to a nonresident, they have to ship it to ...


Politics & Society

What the Handgun Rulings Really Means

Day to Day, June 27, 2008

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Washington D.C. handgun ban is unconstitutional. Alex Cohen talks to Chris Cox, legislative director for the National Rifle Association about what the decision means for gun owners across the country.

Legal Affairs

Q&A: D.C. Gun Ban Overturned; What's Next?

by Bill Chappell

“In theory, people can now go and ask for licenses. And they can't be turned down, unless the rejection is based on some reasonable criteria.” Law professor Robert Weisberg, June 26, 2008 · The Supreme Court's ruling that the District of Columbia can't ban its residents from owning handguns has advocates on both sides of the gun-control issue scrambling to reshape their strategies. The 5-4 decision is the court's first ruling on gun ownership since 1939.

For insight on the case, we spoke to professor Robert Weisberg of Stanford Law School in California. A former Supreme Court clerk, Weisberg now heads the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.

What is your initial reaction to the court's decision to declare the District of Columbia's handgun ban unconstitutional?

I think the Supreme Court just created new job opportunities for constitutional law attorneys. But this ruling may be much narrower than it appears. The D.C. gun law was the most draconian in the country.

It was this extreme statute, saying that otherwise qualified people — an average innocent citizen who could pass a background check — under the D.C. ordinance, she would violate the law by keeping a handgun in her home.

That's a very draconian ban.

It was extreme enough that it was as if it were written by the NRA, to force the court to come out and say, "Oh my God, that's just going too far."

And yet, this case wasn't filed by an average citizen, but by a security guard, Dick Anthony Heller, who lives in a high-crime area.

He is an extremely sympathetic plaintiff — seemingly as qualified a gun owner as you can have. He was somebody who just barely fell outside the line of a police officer.

It was the perfect case to force the Supreme Court to say that maybe a legislature can go too far in restricting gun ownership. It was bound to happen.

But it's very hard to say whether this opinion would invalidate other less extreme laws.

The court's majority was explicit in limiting the reach of its opinion. It said it in no way limits legislatures from prohibiting gun possession by felons or severely mentally ill individuals, for example.

And a license requirement that is reasonable may be OK. The court doesn't say exactly what "reasonable" is. The ruling settled the big symbolic issue, but didn't settle most of the practical issues.

The court's ruling declares that Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban is not enforceable in its current state. Does that mean anyone can now buy and own a gun there?

Well, they still have to get licenses. The license requirement wasn't struck down. In theory, people can now go and ask for licenses. And they can't be turned down, unless the rejection is based on some reasonable criteria.

So, the city is likely to start implementing some criteria right away.

But it would not be legal for someone to just go out and buy and possess a handgun today, without at least going through the motions of getting a license, to give the District a chance to implement some criteria under the licensing law.

It's this funny thing, because right now, the licensing may be a formality, because there are no criteria. And the case seems to say that today, Mr. Heller should be able to walk into the licensing office and get a license.

So, in a certain sense, retaining the licensing is an empty formality. But presumably it won't be an empty formality, because the district will figure out some criteria it wants to apply.

The court had two dissenting opinions on the case, one by Justice Stephen Breyer and one by Justice John Paul Stevens. Do they give any indication of what might happen in future gun-control cases?

They're sort of complementary. The Stevens dissent is the general one. On historical grounds, it basically disagrees with the majority on whether the right to bear arms is collective or individual. Stevens' opinion says that history shows that the only real meaning of the right to bear arms was a kind of states' rights power to organize militias, not an individual right.

The Breyer dissent takes the majority to task on the level of scrutiny. Breyer is telling the majority, "You can't just declare a general individual right to bear arms, and then say that this statute falls."

Since the majority doesn't say that the right to bear arms is absolute, Breyer is saying to them, "You have to tell us by what criteria we determine when a gun ban is reasonable or not. You don't tell us that, and you never really examine this particular statute in any detail to see if it's reasonable or not."

So, Breyer is prompting a wider review of U.S. gun law?

Right, this is sort of a suggestion for future cases. He says the proper way to look at this is by an "interest-balancing" test.

If a jurisdiction can offer the courts an important and convincing enough policy reason for a certain gun restriction —particularly if, as in D.C., there may be an unusual exigency about violent crime, the courts might be obliged to uphold the law, in light of those special, local interests.

But he complains that the court was in such a rush to make its general declaration that it didn't take the district's specific arguments about the need for this particular gun ban seriously enough.

So, even though it's a dissent, it may be a clear signal to future courts about how to interpret the majority.

Would that also give other jurisdictions a signpost, a hint of how to write their own gun bans?

It might. But at the same time, the Scalia majority says it doesn't really like Breyer's standard, this "interest-balancing" thing. It thinks that that's too vague.

But I don't think you can really tell from the majority opinion what standard will be applied down the road, to more typical gun laws. I think the most important thing to note is the extreme nature of the D.C. gun statute.

And courts are going to have to not only decide how different other statutes are from this one; they're also going to have to evolve some criteria for evaluating those differences. And we just don't know yet.

The District of Columbia is not the only place trying to restrict handguns. What do you see happening in other cities and states?

Clearly, various plaintiffs and groups are now going to challenge lots of gun laws around the country. At the same time, lots of jurisdictions are going to defend their gun laws by laying out arguments about the special need that would support a particular ban in a particular place.

Washington's law was an absolute ban on handguns. I'm unaware of anything that extreme. It's the combination of, "you can't own a handgun at all," and for other, larger, guns, "you have to have them unloaded and trigger-locked, except in places of business."

There's a little uncertainty, though. The court left open the possibility that the trigger lock and unloading rule might be acceptable as a general matter, if exceptions were made where there was an argument for self-defense — for instance, someone who has been threatened, or who lives in a neighborhood where there have been violent break-ins.

The law could possibly be interpreted as having an exception to the trigger lock and unloading rule for those circumstances. The statute wasn't interpreted that way; it was treated as if there was no exception possible. So we don't know if a law with those restrictions that also allowed for certain exceptions for self-defense might be permissible.

What about the states that already have laws in place?

I think gun laws that are only slightly less restrictive than D.C.'s may be in trouble.

Technically speaking, all this can say is that this particular law is unconstitutional. And any law lacking any of the important draconian features of the D.C. law could conceivably be legitimate. But we just don't know yet.

— From a conversation that was condensed and edited.


Jewish groups slam handgun decision

Published: 06/27/2008

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision overturning a gun-control law is being criticized by several Jewish groups.

In a 5-4 decision announced Thursday, the court struck down the District of Columbia's ban on owning handguns for self-defense, which was the strictest gun-control law in the country.

Several organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the National Council of Jewish Women, issued statements criticizing the decision. The three organizations, along with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, had signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief in the District of Columbia v. Heller case.

"The culture of guns and violence is pervasive among extremists," said Glen S. Lewy, the ADL's national chair, and Abraham Foxman, its national director, in a joint statement. "This decision places our communities -- and the law enforcement officers that protect them -- at greater risk of violence."

Even while criticizing the decision, Jeffrey Sinensky, the AJC's general counsel, said that while the court had determined that U.S. citizens have a private right to own and keep handguns for hunting and self-defense, its decision "does not impair the ability of local and state governments to pass sensible and effective gun control laws which protect citizens."

The NCJW struck a more alarming note, with its president, Nancy Ratzan, warning that the decision "overturns the basis for two centuries of government regulation of firearms" and could spark challenges.

At least one Jewish group -- Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership -- praised the decision.

"The decision clearly and unambiguously establishes the strong and fundamental nature of the individual right to keep and bear arms," the group announced on its Web site. It also stressed the court's insistence that "its decision should not be read to cast doubt on such laws as longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, or in such sensitive places as schools or government buildings and the like."


Supreme Court affirms gun rights

By David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

June 27, 2008

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled for the first time that the 2nd Amendment explicitly protects Americans' right to own guns for self-defense -- resolving one of the Constitution's oldest disputes and reviving the debate over gun rights, crime and violence.

The landmark decision struck down a District of Columbia ordinance, the strictest in the nation, that barred homeowners from keeping handguns. The ruling brought immediate court challenges to similar laws in Chicago and San Francisco.

In a 5-4 decision, the court said that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" is not limited to state militias, as some historians have argued. Rather, it protects "the inherent right of self-defense," Justice Antonin Scalia said. Joining him in the majority were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

The four dissenters -- Justices John Paul Stevens, Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David H. Souter -- said the majority had unwisely opened the door to legal attacks on popular and effective gun-control measures. "I fear that the District's policy choice may well be just the first of an unknown number of dominoes to be knocked off the table," Stevens wrote in his dissenting opinion.

Scalia stressed that the decision, though historic, was narrow and its practical effects limited.

"Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places, such as schools and government buildings," he wrote. The majority opinion also said that prohibitions on carrying concealed or dangerous and unusual weapons, such as machine guns, were not in doubt.

Scalia did not say how 2nd Amendment rights were to be evaluated. "Since this case represents this court's first in-depth examination of the Second Amendment, one should not expect it to clarify the entire field," he wrote.

Gun rights advocates Thursday made it clear that they would pursue more legal challenges, providing ample opportunity for the high court to revisit the issue.

"It looks to be a phenomenal day for gun owners and District of Columbia residents," said Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Assn. "The next step is to ensure that every American has access to this right."

Gun control advocates, however, took heart in the fact that the ruling left room for some gun regulations.

"While we disagree with the Supreme Court's ruling, which strips the citizens of the District of Columbia of a law they strongly support, the decision clearly suggests that other gun laws are entirely consistent with the Constitution," said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

On the presidential campaign trail, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama were supportive of the court's ruling.

While calling the decision "a landmark victory for 2nd Amendment freedom," McCain said it did not "mark the end of our struggle against those who seek to limit the rights of law-abiding citizens." He also took a jab at a controversial statement Obama made in April, adding: "Unlike the elitist view that believes Americans cling to guns out of bitterness, today's ruling recognizes that gun ownership is a fundamental right -- sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly."

For his part, Obama drew a somewhat different lesson from the court's decision. He said it endorsed both gun rights and reasonable regulation.

"I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the rights of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures," he said.

"I know what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne. We can work together to enact common-sense laws, like closing the gun-show loophole and improving our background-check system, so that guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals."

A White House statement said that President Bush "strongly agrees with the Supreme Court's historic decision today that the 2nd Amendment protects the individual right of Americans to keep and bear arms."

Scalia spent most of his 64-page opinion explaining why history was on his side. He cited the Stuart kings of England and how they had used their militias to disarm their opponents. "By the time of the founding [of this country], the right to have arms had become fundamental for English subjects," he said. "There seems to us no doubt, on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms."

But in his 46-page dissent, Stevens accused Scalia of misreading the words of the 2nd Amendment and spinning its history to ignore its focus on organized militias.

The 2nd Amendment, ratified more than 200 years ago, says that "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."

It was adopted, Stevens said, to protect the right of the people to maintain well-regulated state militias. That does not involve a right to "use guns for nonmilitary purposes like hunting and personal self-defense," he wrote.

But Stevens' view is not shared by most Americans. Polls show that people commonly think the 2nd Amendment protects an individual's right to have a gun. At the same time, most say they favor stricter gun control.

Picking up that theme, Breyer in a separate dissent said cities should be permitted to strictly regulate handguns as a crime-control measure. The District of Columbia permits residents to own rifles and shotguns, he noted.

Following the court's ruling, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty decried the dismantling of the 32-year-old law, saying that "more handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence."

The case began several years ago when Robert A. Levy, a lawyer affiliated with the libertarian Cato Institute, decided to finance a challenge to the district's handgun law in hopes of winning a Supreme Court ruling on the 2nd Amendment. He enlisted several plaintiffs, including Dick Heller, a private security guard who wanted to keep his handgun at home.

The opinion by the U.S. Court Of Appeals in Washington that struck down the law on 2nd Amendment grounds was written by Senior Judge Laurence H. Silberman, a longtime friend of Scalia and Vice President Dick Cheney. Last week, Bush awarded Silberman the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House.

The Supreme Court ruling in the case of District of Columbia vs. Heller came on the final day of this year's term.

Levy, the lawyer who started it all, said he was pleased the court had "rediscovered the 2nd Amendment," but said it was just the beginning: "Heller is merely the opening salvo in a series of litigations that will ultimately resolve what weapons and persons can be regulated and what restrictions are permissible."


Judges open fire at US gun control laws

Ian Munro in New York and Anne Davies in Washington

June 28, 2008

A FORTNIGHT ago the Mayor of Washington, Adrian Fenty, instructed his police to set up roadblocks and search everyone entering the suburb of Trinidad, three kilometres from the White House.

There had been 22 murders in Trinidad in the first five months of this year. Most were drive-by shootings associated with the drug trade.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that the District of Columbia's ban on handguns, introduced in 1976, was unconstitutional. The five-four landmark ruling was the first time the Supreme Court had clarified what the curiously worded second amendment meant. The majority concluded that the "right to bear arms" extended to the individual, not just the right of states to maintain militias, like state guards and police forces.

The ruling came one day after a Kentucky man shot dead five colleagues because he was reprimanded by a supervisor.

But while the Supreme Court was prepared to strike down the district's blanket ban on owning a handgun as invalid because it interfered with the lawful right of citizens to defend themselves, it has left open the way for states to continue to prevent criminals and the mentally ill owning guns and to stop guns being carried into sensitive areas such as schools and government buildings.

Professor Laurence Tribe, of Harvard Law School, said the ruling offered something for both sides of the debate. "It's only the two extremes who have any reason to be disappointed," Professor Tribe said.

"One extreme is those who say there is no individual right, which may be good policy but is not consistent with the constitution. The other extreme is that the right to bear arms is absolute and not subject to regulation, which is also not consistent with the constitution."

Several states will now have to move - pronto - to overhaul their laws to focus on registration rather than prohibition.

Some cities, notably Chicago and San Francisco, have virtually banned handguns. New York also has tough laws.

The National Rifle Association is expected to use the ruling to attack the laws in these cities. "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," Wayne LaPierre, executive vice-president of the association, said. The gun ruling is also likely to play out in the presidential race. The Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, supported strict gun controls when he was in the Illinois legislature. After the ruling he said: "I have always believed the second amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from violence that plagues the streets through commonsense, effective safety measures.

"As president, I will uphold the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners … and sportsmen. I know what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne. We can work together to enact commonsense laws … so guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals."

That is unlikely to satisfy his rival, the Republican John McCain. Senator McCain had earlier signed a brief supporting the case that the DC ban was an infringement of the constitution. On Thursday, he issued a statement reminding voters that Senator Obama had refused to do so.


Gun ruling won't have big effect, some say

Posted by Sarah Harbison | Jackson Citizen Patriot June 27, 2008 09:26AM

With a historical decision Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ban on guns in the District of Columbia that existed for more than 30 years.

But the decision won't have much of an effect on Michigan or Jackson, some said.

Kevin Schupbach, an owner of Schupbach's Sporting Goods, 141 W. Pearl St. in Jackson, praised the Supreme Court's decision.

"I feel that it went the way it should have," Schupbach said. "You should have the right to protect yourself."

Schupbach added that he did not believe the decision will have any immediate impact on the local area.

"We already have laws that allow us to own our guns and use them," he said.

The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision struck down the District of Columbia's strict gun ban as an infringement on fundamental rights. The court's historic ruling reinterprets the Second Amendment for the first time in nearly 70 years.

"The Second Amendment protects an individual right to protect a firearm unconnected with service in a militia and to use that arm for traditionally lawful proposes, such as self-defense within the home," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority.

"It doesn't really change anything. We still have the rights to have guns," Jackson police Deputy Chief John Holda said.

Sen. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, whose district includes much of Jackson County, said the justices made the right decision and it reinforces Michigan law.

"The Michigan (constitution) language is very clear and very explicit, and I would have been concerned if the U.S. Supreme Court would have ruled in favor of the District of Columbia," Schauer said. "That would have nullified very clear language in the Michigan constitution."

Chief Justice John G. Roberts and justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito joined the majority. Justice John Paul Stevens dissented, joined by justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

"The opinion the court announces today fails to identify any new evidence supporting the view that the amendment was intended to limit the power of Congress to regulate civilian uses of weapons," Stevens wrote.

Jackson County District Judge Joe Filip said the District of Columbia legislation was "extreme" and current Michigan gun laws "would withstand constitutional scrutiny."

"I think (the decision) is consistent with what the laws have been in many states across the country," Filip said.

The case, known as District of Columbia v. Heller, is named in part after Dick Heller, 66, a one-time security officer. He was one of six plaintiffs originally recruited to challenge the law, and the only one whom lower court judges deemed to have the legal standing necessary to proceed.

Chicago is the only other city that bans handguns outright; no state imposes a complete prohibition.

Jackson County Undersheriff Tom Finco expected the D.C. gun ban to be overturned.

"I guess I'm not surprised that their restriction was overturned," Finco said. "I think everybody anticipated that it would be."


Repeal the 2nd Amendment

June 27, 2008

No, we don't suppose that's going to happen any time soon. But it should.

The 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is evidence that, while the founding fathers were brilliant men, they could have used an editor.

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.

If the founders had limited themselves to the final 14 words, the amendment would have been an unambiguous declaration of the right to possess firearms. But they didn't, and it isn't. The amendment was intended to protect the authority of the states to organize militias. The inartful wording has left the amendment open to public debate for more than 200 years. But in its last major decision on gun rights, in 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously found that that was the correct interpretation.

On Tuesday, five members of the court edited the 2nd Amendment. In essence, they said: Scratch the preamble, only 14 words count.

In doing so, they have curtailed the power of the legislatures and the city councils to protect their citizens.

The majority opinion in the 5-4 decision to overturn a Washington, D.C., ban on handgun possession goes to great lengths to parse the words of the 2nd Amendment. The opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, spends 111/2 pages just on the meaning of the words "keep and bear arms."

But as Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in a compelling dissent, the five justices in the majority found no new evidence that the 2nd Amendment was intended to limit the power of government to regulate the use of firearms. They found no new evidence to overturn decades of court precedent.

They have claimed, Stevens wrote, "a far more active judicial role in making vitally important national policy decisions than was envisioned at any time in the 18th, 19th, or 20th Centuries."


It's a relief that the majority didn't go further in its policymaking on gun control.

The majority opinion states that the D.C. handgun ban and a requirement for trigger locks violate the 2nd Amendment. By virtue of this decision, Chicago's 1982 ban on handguns is not likely to survive a court challenge. A lawsuit seeking to overturn the Chicago ordinance was filed on Thursday by the Illinois State Rifle Association.

The majority, though, did state that the right under the 2nd Amendment "is not unlimited." So what does that mean? The majority left room for state and local governments to restrict the carrying of concealed weapons in public, to prohibit weapons in "sensitive places such as schools and government buildings," and to regulate the sale of firearms. The majority allowed room for the prohibition of "dangerous and unusual weapons." It did not stipulate what weapons are not "dangerous."

Lower courts are going to be mighty busy figuring out all of this.

We can argue about the effectiveness of municipal handgun bans such as those in Washington and Chicago. They have, at best, had limited impact. People don't have to go far beyond the city borders to buy a weapon that's prohibited within the city.

But neither are these laws overly restrictive. Citizens have had the right to protect themselves in their homes with other weapons, such as shotguns.

Some view this court decision as an affirmation of individual rights. But the damage in this ruling is that it takes a significant public policy issue out of the hands of citizens. The people of Washington no longer have the authority to decide that, as a matter of public safety, they will prohibit handgun possession within their borders.


Chicago and the nation saw a decline in gun violence over the last decade or so, but recent news has been ominous. The murder rate in Chicago has risen 13 percent this year. Guns are still the weapon of choice for mayhem in the U.S. About 68 percent of all murders in 2006 were committed with a firearm, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Repeal the 2nd Amendment? Yes, it's an anachronism.

We won't repeal the amendment, but at least we can have that debate.

Want to debate whether crime-staggered cities should prohibit the possession of handguns? The Supreme Court has just said, "forget about it."


June 27, 2008 5:01 AM PDT

A great day for individual freedom

Posted by Peter Glaskowsky

Thursday was a great day for all of us in the United States of America.

In its ruling on the case District of Columbia v. Heller, our Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment to the US Constitution means what it plainly says: the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right.

The Supreme Court of the United States

In its decision (available here, along with the dissenting opinions), the Court rejected decades of mendacious propaganda from anti-gun activists, including those who infest the city government in the District of Columbia, where this case originated.

Opponents of gun rights-- whether they believe that the people should be disarmed completely, or simply left without the means to resist government oppression-- have long maintained that the Second Amendment gives Americans only a collective right to belong to a government-controlled militia, and that other purposes of gun ownership, such as self-defense and hunting, have no Constitutional protection.

These absurd lies have been refuted repeatedly over the years, but they were conclusively shredded by the clear and comprehensive analysis of the Court's opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia.

Scalia even went to the trouble of refuting the dissenting opinions put forth by Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer.

The amendment is simple:

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.

Our would-be oppressors in DC and elsewhere have asserted that the first half of the amendment, in mentioning the militia, has the effect of constraining the second half. But of course if the framers wished to say that, they had only to say "...the right of the Militia to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

They did not mean that, and they did not say that.

The militia is referenced to define a political purpose for the amendment: ensuring that effective militias may be raised from among the people when they are needed to defend our country or its individual states. In constitutional amendments, like anywhere else, giving one reason for a decision doesn't imply the rejection of all other possible reasons.

Based on his analysis of contemporary documents, Justice Scalia shows that this is how the framers intended the Amendment to be read. Dividing the Amendment into a "prefatory clause" and an "operative clause," Scalia states the obvious truth:

...A prefatory clause does not limit or expand the scope of the operative clause.

In discussing the "operative clause," the heart of the Amendment, Scalia goes right for the knockout punch: everywhere else in the Bill of Rights that rights of "the people" are described, they are clearly and unambiguously defined as individual rights.

Scalia goes on from there to demolish all the other significant arguments of the gun grabbers, and his decision is well worth reading, especially for those who don't understand that the intent of the Amendment is no longer up for discussion in this country. This is not the kind of decision that could rationally be reversed later; the evidence and analysis Scalia presents is irrefutable.

The original case addressed only the right of an individual to possess and carry a firearm within the home for purposes of self-defense. Our Federal appeals courts, including the Supreme Court, have a tradition of addressing only the issues raised in the cases they consider. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dealt only with this specific right.

But the Second Amendment is broader in nature; it protects freedoms that are much more politically significant. Scalia predicts that these other freedoms may become the subject of future rulings by the Court:

But since this case represents this Court's first in-depth examination of the Second Amendment, one should not expect it to clarify the entire field...

I hope that the Court is given the opportunity to examine the other purposes of the Second Amendment, and the sooner, the better.