Supreme Court: Gun Ownership an Individual Right

In a landmark case, the U.S. Supreme Court has shot down the District of Columbia’s 32-year ban on handgun possession, effectively ruling that individual citizens have the right to firearms ownership.

It was a ruling that has been widely anticipated by gun owners as well as advocacy groups on both sides of the issue.

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Today's 5-4 decision marked the first time in history that the judicial branch has interpreted the depth of the Second Amendment’s scope and meaning. 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 District of Columbia’s handgun ban, passed by a 12-1 vote by the D.C. Council in 1976, is considered the most restrictive in the nation. It prohibits city residents--with few exceptions--from owning handguns and keeping them in their homes. Residents who own sporting firearms such as shotguns and rifles must keep them disassembled or fitted with trigger locks at all times.

In 2003, police officer Dick Anthony Heller and five other residents challenged the D.C. gun ban in U.S. District Court. Though the case was dismissed, a U.S. Court of Appeals panel reversed that action in 2007.

As a result, Heller vs. District of Columbia was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 18, 2008.

In writing for the Court’s majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said the Constitution does not allow “the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.”

Further, Justice Scalia wrote:

“Logic demands that there be a link between the stated purpose and the command. We start therefore with a strong presumption that the Second Amendment right is exercised individually and belongs to all Americans.

“The most natural reading of ‘keep arms’ in the Second Amendment is to have weapons. The term was applied, then as now, to weapons that were not specifically designed for military use and were not employed in a military capacity.

“Putting all of these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.”

Today’s ruling was hailed by industry leaders as a uniform and legally accepted definition of the Second Amendment.

“The Heller decision reaffirms the wisdom of our founding fathers in creating the Bill of Rights to protect and preserve individual rights, the cornerstone of our democracy,” said Steve Sanetti president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “Furthermore, this decision solidifies an historical fact, the commonsense understanding that governments have powers, not rights--rights are reserved exclusively for individuals.”