Court Rules in Favor of Second Amendment Gun Right
- By MARK SHERMAN
The Associated Press
Thursday, June 26, 2008; 10:30 AM
WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Americans have a
right to own guns for self-defense and hunting, the justices' first
major pronouncement on gun rights in U.S. history.
The court's 5-4 ruling struck down the District of Columbia's 32-year-
old ban on handguns as incompatible with gun rights under the Second
Amendment. The decision went further than even the Bush
administration wanted, but probably leaves most firearms laws intact.
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.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for four colleagues, said the
Constitution does not permit "the absolute prohibition of handguns
held and used for self-defense in the home."
In dissent, 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."
Joining Scalia were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel
Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. The other dissenters were
Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter.
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 home for
protection in the same Capitol Hill neighborhood as the court.
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.
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."
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.