A Non-Partisan Resource for Journalists

District of Columbia v. Heller

A Journalists’ Guide to Heller from David Koppel: Journalist-guide-to-Heller-and-McDonald

In District of Columbia v. Heller, decided in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that individuals have the right to own guns. It was a strong affirmation of the Second Amendment rights that pro-gun groups hoped for.  The Cornell Law School project put it this way:

It was not until 2008 that the Supreme Court definitively came down on the side of an “individual rights” theory. Relying on new scholarship regarding the origins of the Amendment, the Court in District of Columbia v. Heller confirmed what had been a growing consensus of legal scholars – that the rights of the Second Amendment adhered to individuals.

Lawnix explained what was at issue:

Handgun possession is banned under District of Columbia (D) law. The law prohibits the registration of handguns and makes it a crime to carry an unregistered firearm. Furthermore all lawfully owned firearms must be kept unloaded and dissembled or bound by a trigger lock unless they are being used for lawful recreational activities or located in a place of business.

Dick Heller (P) is a special police officer in the District of Columbia. The District refused Heller’s application to register a handgun he wished to keep in his home. Heller filed this lawsuit in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia on Second Amendment grounds. Heller sought an injunction against enforcement of the bar on handgun registration, the licensing requirement prohibiting the carrying of a firearm in the home without a license, and the trigger-lock requirement insofar as it prohibits the use of functional firearms within the home.

The District Court dismissed Heller’s complaint. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed and directed the District Court to enter summary judgment in favor of the District of Columbia. The Court of Appeals construed Heller’s complaint as seeking the right to render a firearm operable and carry it in his home only when necessary for self defense, and held that the total ban on handguns violated the individual right to possess firearms under the Second Amendment.

The New Yorker explained:

It was a triumph above all for Justice Antonin Scalia, the author of the opinion, but it required him to craft a thoroughly political compromise. In the eighteenth century, militias were proto-military operations, and their members had to obtain the best military hardware of the day. But Scalia could not create, in the twenty-first century, an individual right to contemporary military weapons—like tanks and Stinger missiles. In light of this, Scalia conjured a rule that said D.C. could not ban handguns because “handguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home, and a complete prohibition of their use is invalid.”

So the government cannot ban handguns, but it can ban other weapons—like, say, an assault rifle—or so it appears.

The Heller decision was careful not imply that governments are powerless in gun matters.   The Cornell analysis said, “However, the Court specifically stated (albeit in dicta) that the Second Amendment did not limit prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, penalties for carrying firearms in schools and government buildings, or laws regulating the sales of guns. The Court also noted that there was a historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons’ that would not be affected by its decision.”
April 2, 2013, The New York Times examined how Heller fits with proposed gun restrictions nationwide.
Screen shot 2013-04-02 at 8.17.45 AM
The Times points out:
Screen shot 2013-04-02 at 8.18.41 AM

Updated March 5, 2013

The Law Center’s Post-Heller Litigation Summary surveys the landscape of Second Amendment challenges to federal, state and local gun laws asserted in the aftermath of the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision in District of Columbia v. Heller.

Download our December 2012 summary or read it below.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: