District of Columbia v. Heller

Posted: December 27, 2014 by beguide in case summaries, Guns


WHAT HAPPENED: Washington, D.C. passed local statutes that put significant limitations on the private ownership of handguns. While citizens could own handguns, a person’s ability to obtain a permit was severely limited and owners had to disassemble handguns even in the owner’s house. Heller was one of a collection of persons who sought to overrule the statute because they couldn’t get/own a gun.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT: The Second Amendment preserves everyone’s ability to “bear arms”, but frankly, bear arms could mean anything from your ability to serve in a militia or your ability to possess guns even if you aren’t mentally or legally fit to own a gun. After leaving this decision up in the air for 50 some-odd years, the Supreme Court took this case to properly interpret the meaning of the Second Amendment approximately 275 years after the amendment was first written.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THIS DECISION: The interpretation of the Second Amendment mostly; however, the decision of the Court was a little narrower than you may expect. The Court was most aptly determining whether or not a City or State could outlaw the private ownership of handguns, within reasonable limitations such as requiring permits or concealed weapon permits. So while the decision prevented the government from banning private ownership of guns, it did not authorize the universal ownership of guns, Mad-Max style.

WHAT WAS THE RULING: The Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Heller and held that the Washington could not bar the private ownership of handguns in the manner that was done in this case. Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion which stated that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to possess a gun independent of one’s participation in a militia. In usual Scalia fashion, the majority opinion focused on the history of the Second Amendment and the purpose of the law at the time it was drafted. The Court stated that citizens have the right to possess handguns, which are the most popular firearms in America, and the Washington statute created an unreasonable burden on that right. The dissenting opinion, written by Justice Stevens, stated that the majority decision was inconsistent with precedent and was an unreasonable upheaval of the law. This decision was the first time that the Court preserved that right and the dissenting opinion did not see a reason why the Court made this decision at this point in time.

THE GOOD GUYS WON IF YOU: legally own guns and feel strongly about the private ownership of guns even if millions of people die from them every year.

THE BAD GUYS WON IF YOU:  are OK sacrificing freedom for security.

WHO WAS RIGHT: Hard to say really. Brett believed that States should have the right to do what they want, whereas Nazim had a hard time getting past the thought of technology being included in the Constitution. Since neither of those considerations were addressed by the Court, let’s say it’s a loss for everyone.


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