U.S. Supreme Court
In its first conclusive interpretation of the Second Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the District of Columbia’s handgun ban, affirming an individual right to own firearms and not merely a right for states to form armed militias.
Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said the Constitution does not permit “the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.”
Justice John Paul Stevens, writing in dissent, said 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.”
Scalia said the ruling should not “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.”
Scalia was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Joining Stevens in dissent were Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, called the decision “a great moment in American history.”
“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,” he said.
LaPierre told Fox News the NRA is filing lawsuits in Chicago, San Francisco and other cities, vowing the organization “will not rest until individuals everywhere have this freedom.”
In a statement, he said the decision “vindicates individual Americans all over this country who have always known that this is their freedom worth protecting.”
“Our founding fathers wrote and intended the Second Amendment to be an individual right,” LaPierre said. “The Supreme Court has now acknowledged it. The Second Amendment as an individual right now becomes a real permanent part of American constitutional law.”
The amendment, ratified in 1791, says: “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.”
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the White House is “pleased by the decision upholding Americans’ right to bear arms.”
The District’s law barred handgun ownership by residents who did not own one before the law was enacted in 1976.
The case, District of Columbia v. Heller, came to the Supreme Court after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled the ban unconstitutional, reversing a U.S. District Court decision.
Security guard Dick A. Heller, 66, was one of six District residents who filed the challenge to the ban. The others were determined by the appeals court to not have legal standing.
The District required residents who owned handguns or rifles before the 1976 ban took effect to keep the weapons in their homes. Any legal firearms had to be kept unloaded and fitted with trigger locks or disassembled.
McCain: Gun ownership ‘sacred’
Sen. John McCain called the decision a “landmark victory for Second Amendment freedom in the United States.”
The Republican presumptive presidential nominee signed a friend-of-the-court brief in the D.C. case affirming his belief the Second Amendment confers an individual right to bear arms.
He crticized his Democratic Party rival, Sen. Barack Obama, for refusing to sign the brief.
“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 has sidestepped the issue. In an April debate, he was asked by ABC News’ Charlie Gibson if he considered the D.C. law to be consistent with an individual’s right to bear arms.
“Well, Charlie, I confess I obviously haven’t listened to the briefs and looked at all the evidence,” Obama said.
The Illinois senator has said the Second Amendment provides an individual right but insists it is not absolute. The Constitution, he has contended, does not bar local governments from enacting “common sense laws.”
ABC News reports the Obama campaign is disavowing an “inartful” statement to the Chicago Tribune last year in which an unnamed aide characterized Obama as believing the D.C. ban was constitutional.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the statement to the paper was inaccurate, because the senator has refrained from developing a position on whether the D.C. gun law violates the Second Amendment.
The Nov. 20 Tribune story quoted the aide saying Obama “believes that we can recognize and respect the rights of law-abiding gun owners and the right of local communities to enact common sense laws to combat violence and save lives. Obama believes the D.C. handgun law is constitutional.”