DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. HELLER

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Petitioner 
District of Columbia, et al.
Respondent 
Dick Anthony Heller
Advocates
(on behalf of the Petitioners)
(on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Petitioners)
(on behalf of the Respondents)
Term:
Facts of the Case 

For the first time in seventy years, the Court heard a case regarding the central meaning of the Second Amendment and its relation to gun control laws. After the District of Columbia passed legislation barring the registration of handguns, requiring licenses for all pistols, and mandating that all legal firearms must be kept unloaded and disassembled or trigger locked, a group of private gun-owners brought suit claiming the laws violated their Second Amendment right to bear arms. The federal trial court in Washington D.C. refused to grant the plaintiffs relief, holding that the Second Amendment applies only to militias, such as the National Guard, and not to private gun ownership.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit disagreed, voting two to one that the Second Amendment does in fact protect private gun owners such as plaintiffs. Petitioners agree with the trial court's decision that the Second Amendment applies only to militias, and further argue that (a) the Second Amendment should not apply to D.C. because it is a federal enclave rather than a state, and (b) that the D.C. legislation merely regulates, rather than prohibits, gun ownership. Respondents, although disagreeing on the merits, have also urged the Court to review the case in order to clearly define the relationship between federal gun control laws and the Second Amendment.

Question 

Whether provisions of the D.C. Code generally barring the registration of handguns, prohibiting carrying a pistol without a license, and requiring all lawful firearms to be kept unloaded and either disassembled or trigger locked violate the Second Amendment rights of individuals who are not affiliated with any state-regulated militia, but who wish to keep handguns and other firearms for private use in their homes?

Conclusion 
Decision: 5 votes for Heller, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 2

Yes. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self- defense within the home. The Court based its holding on the text of the Second Amendment, as well as applicable language in state constitutions adopted soon after the Second Amendment. Justice Antonin Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court. Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer filed dissenting opinions, each joined by the other as well as Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Stevens argued that the Second Amendment only protects the rights of individuals to bear arms as part of a well-regulated state militia, not for other purposes even if they are lawful. Justice Breyer agreed with Stevens' argument but also stated that even if possession were to be allowed for other reasons, any law regulating the use of firearms would have to be "unreasonable or inappropriate" to violate the Second Amendment. In Breyer's view, the D.C. laws at issue in this case were both reasonable and appropriate.

Cite this Page
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. HELLER. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 27 August 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2007/2007_07_290#argument>.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. HELLER, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2007/2007_07_290#argument (last visited August 27, 2014).
"DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. HELLER," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 27, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2007/2007_07_290#argument.