The Second Amendment did not fully protect an individual's right to keep arms for self-defense until a policeman challenged the District of Columbia's handgun ban in 2008.
Since 1976, the District had implemented a covert ban on handguns by prohibiting residents from carrying unregistered handguns while refusing to issue any registrations. Residents could have an unregistered handgun in their homes, but it had to be unloaded, disassembled or rendered inoperable by a trigger lock.
Under the ordinance, residents of the District could not even carry an assembled, loaded handgun from room to room in their own homes without a registration!
Dick Heller, a D.C. special policeman, applied to register a handgun he planned to keep loaded in his home. The District refused, and Heller filed suit on Second Amendment grounds to overturn the ordinance.
After a narrow 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court held that D.C.'s handgun ban violated an individual's Second Amendment right to bear arms for lawful purposes such as self-defense.
Crucially, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right, unconnected with service in a militia. 122 years after Presser, the "individual" interpretation of the Second Amendment finally got its day in court and won.
The Court's opinion, written by the late Justice Antony Scalia, was careful to make sure the Heller decision could not be interpreted too broadly.
"Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner and for whatever purpose," Scalia wrote.
The Court's decision in Heller could not be used to overthrow laws preventing felons and the mentally ill from buying firearms, or allow citizens to carry firearms into schools or government buildings. The Court ruled that only weapons "in common use" like handguns are protected by the Second Amendment and that dangerous or unusual weapons could still be prohibited.
The Supreme Court's decision in Heller established the individual's right to keep and bear arms in federal enclaves like the District of Columbia, but it did not prevent states from continuing to put blanket restrictions on firearms. The right to keep and bear arms was not fully incorporated to the states until 2010, in McDonald v. Chicago.
Continue reading "The Supreme Court and the Second Amendment: Understanding the Court's Landmark Decisions" at Ammo.com.