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Justices agree on right to own guns

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080318/ap_on_go_su_co/scotus_guns Justices agree on right to own guns By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer 25 minutes ago
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 18, 2008

      Justices agree on right to own guns

      By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer 25 minutes

      WASHINGTON - Americans have a right to own guns,
      Supreme Court justices declared Tuesday in a historic
      and lively debate that could lead to the most
      significant interpretation of the Second Amendment
      since its ratification two centuries ago.

      Governments have a right to regulate those firearms, a
      majority of justices seemed to agree. But there was
      less apparent agreement on the case they were arguing:
      whether Washington's ban on handguns goes too far.

      The justices dug deeply into arguments on one of the
      Constitution's most hotly debated provisions as
      demonstrators shouted slogans outside. Guns are an
      American right, argued one side. "Guns kill,"
      responded the other.

      Inside the court, at the end of a session extended
      long past the normal one hour, a majority of justices
      appeared ready to say that Americans have a "right to
      keep and bear arms" that goes beyond the amendment's
      reference to service in a militia.

      Several justices were openly skeptical that the
      District of Columbia's 32-year-old handgun ban,
      perhaps the strictest in the nation, could survive
      under that reading of the Constitution.

      "What is reasonable about a total ban on possession?"
      Chief Justice John Roberts asked.

      Walter Dellinger, representing the district, replied
      that Washington residents could own rifles and
      shotguns and could use them for protection at home.

      "What is reasonable about a total ban on possession is
      that it's a ban only on the possession of one kind of
      weapon, of handguns, that's considered especially
      dangerous," Dellinger said.

      Justice Stephen Breyer appeared reluctant to
      second-guess local officials.

      Is it "unreasonable for a city with a very high crime
      rate ... to say no handguns here?" Breyer asked.

      Alan Gura, representing a Washington resident who
      challenged ban, said, "It's unreasonable and it fails
      any standard of review."

      The court has 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

      The basic issue for the justices is 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.

      A key justice, Anthony Kennedy, seemed to settle that
      question early on when he said the Second Amendment
      gives "a general right to bear arms." He is likely to
      be joined by Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito,
      Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — a majority of the
      nine-member court.

      Gun rights proponents were encouraged.

      "What I heard from the court was the view that the
      D.C. law, which prohibits good people from having a
      firearm ... to defend themselves against bad people is
      not reasonable and unconstitutional," National Rifle
      Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre
      said after leaving the court.

      Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty said he hoped the court
      would leave the ban in place and not vote for a
      compromise that would, for example, allow handguns in
      homes but not in public places. "More guns anywhere in
      the District of Columbia is going to lead to more
      crime. And that is why we stand so steadfastly against
      any repeal of our handgun ban," the mayor said after
      attending the arguments.

      A decision that defines the amendment's meaning would
      be significant by itself. But the court also has to
      decide whether Washington's ban can stand and how to
      evaluate other gun control laws.

      The justices have many options, including upholding a
      federal appeals court ruling that struck down the ban.

      Solicitor General Paul Clement, the Bush
      administration's top Supreme Court lawyer, supported
      the individual right but urged the justices not to
      decide the other question. Instead, Clement said the
      court should say that governments may impose
      reasonable restrictions, including federal laws that
      ban certain types of weapons.

      Clement wants the justices to order the appeals court
      to re-evaluate the Washington law. He did not take a
      position on it.

      This issue has caused division within the
      administration, with Vice President Dick Cheney taking
      a harder line than the official position at the court.

      In addition to the handgun ban, Washington also has a
      trigger lock requirement for other guns that raised
      some concerns Tuesday.

      "When you hear somebody crawling in your bedroom
      window, you can run to your gun, unlock it, load it
      and then fire?" Justice Antonin Scalia said.

      Roberts, who has two young children, suggested at one
      point that trigger locks might be reasonable.

      "There is always a risk that the children will get up
      and grab the firearm and use it for some purpose other
      than what the Second Amendment was designed to
      protect," he said.

      On the other hand, he, too, wondered about the
      practical effect of removing a lock in an emergency.
      "So then you turn on the lamp, you pick up your
      reading glasses," Roberts said to laughter.

      Dellinger said he opened the lock in three seconds,
      although he conceded that was in daylight.

      While the arguments raged inside, dozens of protesters
      mingled with tourists and waved signs saying "Ban the
      Washington elitists, not our guns" or "The NRA helps
      criminals and terrorists buy guns."

      Members of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
      chanted "guns kill" as followers of the Second
      Amendment Sisters and Maryland Shall Issue.Org shouted
      "more guns, less crime."

      The City Council that adopted the ban said it was
      justified because "handguns have no legitimate use in
      the purely urban environment of the District of

      Dick Anthony Heller, 65, 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 last Supreme Court ruling on the topic came in
      1939 in U.S. v. Miller, which involved a sawed-off
      shotgun. Constitutional scholars disagree over what
      that case means but agree it did not squarely answer
      the question of individual versus collective rights.

      Roberts said at his confirmation hearing that the
      correct reading of the Second Amendment was "still
      very much an open issue."
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