District of Columbia v. Heller: Restrictions on Right to Bear Arms (06/26/2008)

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District of Columbia v. Heller

Do the provisions of the District of Columbia Code that restrict the licensing of handguns and require licensed firearms kept in the home to be kept nonfunctional violate the Second Amendment?

Argued: 03/18/2008

Decision Date: 06/26/2008

Decision Record: 5-4; yes

Justices Majority: John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito

Justices Dissenting: John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruther Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer

Effect of the Decision

This case holds that there cannot be laws placed that restrict the liscensing of handguns or that require for guns to be kept disfunctional because it violates the Second Amendment.

In Favor

In the representation of the side of the District of Columbia, attorney Walter E. Delinger, III said, “The Second Amendment was a direct response to concern over Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which gave the new national Congress the surprising, perhaps even the shocking, power to organize, arm, and presumably disarm the State militias.

What is at issue this morning is the scope and nature of the individual right protected by the resulting amendment and the first text to consider is the phrase protecting a right to keep and bear arms.

In the debates over the Second Amendment, every person who used the phrase “bear arms” used it to refer to the use of arms in connection with militia service and when Madison introduced the amendment in the first Congress, he exactly equated the phrase “bearing arms” with, quote, “rendering military service”.

We know this from the inclusion in his draft of a clause exempting those with religious scruples.

His clause says

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country, but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person. “

And even if the language of keeping and bearing arms were ambiguous, the amendment’s first clause confirms that the right is militia-related.”

Against

Then in opposition, representing Heller, attorney Paul D. Clement claimed, “The Second Amendment to the Constitution, as its text indicates, guarantees an individual right that does not depend on eligibility for or service in the militia.

We would take the position that the kind of plastic guns or guns that are specifically designed to evade metal detectors that are prohibited by Federal law are not “arms” within the meaning of the Second Amendment and are not protected at all.

And that would be the way we would say that you should analyze that provision of Federal law, as those are not even arms within the provisions of the Second Amendment.

I think to make the same argument about machine guns would be a much more difficult argument, to say the least, given that they are the standard-issue weapon for today’s armed forces and the State-organized militia.”

Justices:

The majority opinion was written by Justice Antonin Scalia. He wrote, “We are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country, and we take seriously the concerns raised by the many amici who believe that prohibition of handgun ownership is a solution. The Constitution leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns. But the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table. These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home. Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”

Then in dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said, “I do not know whether today’s decision will increase the labor of federal judges to the “breaking point” envisioned by Justice Cardozo, but it will surely give rise to a far more active judicial role in making vitally important national policy decisions than was envisioned at any time in the 18th, 19th, or 20th centuries. The Court properly disclaims any interest in evaluating the wisdom of the specific policy choice challenged in this case, but it fails to pay heed to a far more important policy choice—the choice made by the Framers themselves. The Court would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons, and to authorize this Court to use the common-law process of case-by-case judicial lawmaking to define the contours of acceptable gun control policy. Absent compelling evidence that is nowhere to be found in the Court’s opinion, I could not possibly conclude that the Framers made such a choice.”

Also in dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote, “The majority ignores a more important question: Given the purposes for which the Framers enacted the Second Amendment, how should it be applied to modern-day circumstances that they could not have anticipated? Assume, for argument’s sake, that the Framers did intend the Amendment to offer a degree of self-defense protection. Does that mean that the Framers also intended to guarantee a right to possess a loaded gun near swimming pools, parks, and playgrounds? That they would not have cared about the children who might pick up a loaded gun on their parents’ bedside table? That they (who certainly showed concern for the risk of fire) would have lacked concern for the risk of accidental deaths or suicides that readily accessible loaded handguns in urban areas might bring? Unless we believe that they intended future generations to ignore such matters, answering questions such as the questions in this case requires judgment—judicial judgment exercised within a framework for constitutional analysis that guides that judgment and which makes its exercise transparent. One cannot answer those questions by combining inconclusive historical research with judicial ipse dixit. The argument about method, however, is by far the less important argument surrounding today’s decision. Far more important are the unfortunate consequences that today’s decision is likely to spawn. Not least of these, as I have said, is the fact that the decision threatens to throw into doubt the constitutionality of gun laws throughout the United States. I can find no sound legal basis for launching the courts on so formidable and potentially dangerous a mission. In my view, there simply is no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas. VI For these reasons, I conclude that the District’s measure is a proportionate, not a disproportionate, response to the compelling concerns that led the District to adopt it. And, for these reasons as well as the independently sufficient reasons set forth by JUSTICE STEVENS, I would find the District’s measure consistent with the Second Amendment’s demands.”

My Opinion:

In this case, I agree with the majority’s decision. The Second Amendment clearly states that all citizens can enjoy the right to bear arms. Enforcing a law that requires for all handguns to be left at home and kept disfunctional goes against that, and is therefore a violation. If a person has to keep their guns disfunctional, then they can’t even enjoy their constitutional right to the Second Amendment. Any law that interferes with the constitutional right to bear arms is a violation of the citizens’ rights.

*Justice Leaning L=Left, LC=Left of Center, C=Center, RC=Right of Center, R=Right

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