Supremes to review handgun ban

The US Supreme Court Tuesday agreed for the first time in 70 years to review the right to own guns, as it considers whether the city of Washington can ban private handguns, a court spokeswoman told AFP.

The high court agreed to review an appeal by the city insisting its three-decade ban on handguns is constitutional, said court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg.

Arguments are expected between February and April with a ruling at the end of June, just a few months before the November 2008 presidential election.

The US capital, plagued by chronic violence in many of its poorest neighborhoods, took the case to the nine Supreme Court judges seeking to maintain the prohibition on individuals owning handguns.

Washington, which is also home to the president and the government, has interpreted the constitution’s disputed second amendment, the right to bear arms, to mean that there is a collective right for those who are part of a police force or security force to bear arms.

Since 1976 it has banned residents from carrying handguns, but they are allowed to keep a rifle or hunting gun in their homes, providing it is under lock and not loaded. The ban remains in place until the US high court issues a ruling in the case.

For millions of Americans however — and especially the powerful gun lobby represented by the National Rifle Association — the second amendment guarantees the right of every American citizen to own any gun, with few limits.

The amendment declares that: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

In 2003, Washington resident Dick Heller, who lives in one of the city’s tougher neighborhoods, lodged a suit against the local authorities saying his constitutional right to bear arms was being violated. Although his case was initially rejected, he won on appeal to a federal appeals court in March.

Washington officials in turn then lodged a case with the Supreme Court in September insisting that it must rule on the extent of access to handguns, the weapon of choice in two-thirds of robberies and assaults.

Handguns are used in half of the 15,000 murders across the country every year, according to statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

“Faced with the evidence that handguns pose a particularly serious threat to public safety, the council chose to ban handguns because it concluded that less restrictive regulations would be ineffective,” the city said in its petition to the court.

“Whatever right the second amendment guarantees, it does not require the district to stand by while its citizens die.”

Opponents of gun restrictions welcomed the court’s decision to hear the case, hoping the more conservative panel of justices that now sit on the bench will strike down the gun ban.

“That’s good news for all Americans who would like to be able to defend themselves where they live and sleep,” the right-leaning Cato Institute said in a statement after the court agreed to review the case.

“And it’s especially good news for residents of Washington DC, which has been the murder capital of the nation despite an outright ban on all functional firearms since 1976,” said the group, which backs Heller.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the country’s largest non-partisan group leading the fight to prevent gun violence, continued its campaign for gun control.

“We are hopeful that the Court will reverse the lower court ruling (on Dick Heller’s lawsuit), which we thought was deeply flawed, and that the Supreme Court will reaffirm that communities are free to enact the strong gun laws that they think will protect the safety of their citizens,” Brady Center vice president Dennis Henigan told AFP.

To date the Supreme Court has rarely considered the issue of the right to bear arms.

In the 19th century, it determined that the founding fathers meant to give all states in the union the freedom to draw up their own gun laws.

Then in 1939, the court upheld a law requiring that arms transported from state to state be registered.

But all states have formulated their own restrictions, which vary wildly.


  1. history guy

    The purpose of the entire Bill of Rights was to protect the PEOPLE from the Government. Disarming the people makes them dependent, helpless and at the mercy of the government.

  2. Jerry

    The 2nd Amendment would not make it through my ENGL
    101 course – it’s not a sentence: it has two independent, unrelated ideas, and it has gross errors with commas. Some people refer to it as having a preamble and a main clause, but the comma errors mean that there simply is no main clause. The framers must have had a brandy or three too many that evening when they wrote it.

    We have the problem of sorting out the intent of the framers. The courts have held that the word “Militia” refers to all “people”, not just the National Guard and
    Reserves; but the Amendment can then be read as suggesting that the “people” should be “well regulated” because that was “necessary to the security of a free
    State”. I propose that an armed but unregulated people is an invitation to violent chaos that undermines the security of the State. Notice that the motive of the amendment is to protect the State — the organs of government — not the people, and to that end governments have the right to regulate people.

    So far so good, but then the amendment adds “shall not be infringed” – how can a right be both regulated and not infringed? However, the framers added the phrase after putting in an extra comma, separating the main verb from its subject. There are two possibilities (at least). One is that the bunch of drunks didn’t notice the extra comma or just plain made a mistake (I have visions of Madison, Hamilton and all, blind drunk and shooting holes in the roof like a bunch of Hollywood cowboy bandits: “HEY! This right to bear arms is FUN!”).

    The more serious grammatical argument is that the comma was deliberately placed to SEPARATE the last part from the right to bear arms — to DISCONNECT the two parts In this light, a paraphrase of the amendment becomes: “the right of a state to run a well regulated Militia shall not be infringed, and the Militia has the right
    to bear arms.”

    There are two unrelated rights mentioned in the amendment, and the commas suggest that it is the right to a well regulated militia that “shall not be infringed”. The addition of the phrase concerning “the security of a free State” suggests that it is the State right that is the more important one in the amendment, not the people’s right to bear arms. Indeed, if the words “Militia” and “people” are synonymous, then the amendment makes sense if we read it as applying to the State’s right to run its own, armed militia. That way, the two rights are related as both applying to the militia.

    That interpretation would of course unfortunately destroy Joe Six-Pack’s right to keep a loaded handgun beside the bed to shoot the wife with.

    Charles Fried, the Solicitor General under President Reagan, wrote in a brief in 1986 that “the Second Amendment guarantees no right to keep and bear a firearm that does not have “some reasonable relationship to … a well-regulated militia.”

    Likewise, four years later, Kenneth Starr, who was the first President Bush’s Solicitor General, wrote that “possession of [a] firearm does not fall within the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.”

    Admittedly, in 2001 Attorney General Ashcroft wrote a letter to be read to forty-five thousand attendees at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention, in which he said, “Let me state unequivocally my view that the text and the original intent of the Second Amendment clearly protect the right of individuals to keep and bear firearms.” But of course, we’d all expect that. A year before, in 2000, the NRA contributed $339,000 to Ashcroft’s senatorial race in Missouri. It will be interesting to see the NRA trying to channel money to Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts, and Kennedy.

  3. ekaton

    ” … governments have the right to regulate people.”

    Only to the degree that the people agree to be regulated.

    — Kent Shaw

  4. Wayne K Dolik

    The Second Amendment says neither States nor Cities have any right to restrict gun ownership. But, some persist in the Jamie Gorelick theory that the founders really didn’t mean what they wrote into the Bill of Rights. I recall that the infamous Ms. Gorelick participated in the cover-up 911-Commission Report. Gorelick was a former Assistant A.G. under the Butcher of Waco, one Janet Reno! Ms. Gorelick and her like have a very different Worldview indeed. They persist in putting a bag over everyone’s head and claiming things aren’t really what they are.

    Fascism is alive and doing well in the good old U.S.A. We have seen great inroads into fascism in the last few years post 911. About the only good thing that can be said, is that in 6 instances Federal Judges, as an aside mostly Bush appointees have stood up for the Constitution and said; “you can’t do that”. It is UNCONSTITUTIONAL!

    Therefore, our Court system has been the only real deterrence to the complete shredding of the American Constitution and our Rights and Civil Liberties. Our Court System has for the most part been the only Check and Balance we have left.

    Our Congress has been A.W.O.L. and should be summarily fired by the voting public. Forget about the Decider and the anointed Dictatorship.

    This goes back to the battle of Lexington and Concord. It was mostly “People” that lost their lives in defense of this Country and our freedoms. As long as the “People’ remains in our Bill of Rights, it in fact refers to the individual citizen.

  5. CheckerboardStrangler

    It’s over.
    Once the Supremes make their decision, we will be ready for assimilation into the planned NAU and then soon after, the One World Government, a government that doesn’t allow armed citizens.

    It’s all been planned in advance, and YES, by people who CONSPIRE to destroy the constitution.

  6. Wayne K Dolik

    “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —”

    Thomas Jefferson

    “I propose that an armed but unregulated people is an invitation to violent chaos that undermines the security of the State.”


    “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.”

    Benjamin Franklin

  7. yarply

    We can say goodbye to our guns folks, because the supreme court is probably going to rule against the individuals rights to own guns.
    Does anyone truly believe we the people need the so supreme court to explain to us what the 2nd amendment means?
    I know,,,, we are to dumb to understand what the following says.

    A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

    Of course “some” would play word games with the obvious meaning and bandy the grammatical errors which they say are present in the 2nd amendment, thinking the people have forgotten,, or never knew that that the rules of grammar have changed in the last two and a half hundred years, plus have the people completely overlook that what is presented, is a short list of things.
    1. A well regulated militia, 2. The right of the people to keep and bear arms,
    which then has a reason for these things inserted into the clause, (being necessary to the security of a free State) and then followed by a statement of the absoluteness of the whole at the end, (shall not be infringed.)
    (((This is the way people THOUGHT and wrote in thoughs days)))
    In todays jargon it says; A well regulated militia which is necessary for a free state and the Right of the People to keep and bear arms,,shall NOT be infringed upon.

    Playing grammar games is a lawyer trick which some use to take something which has a plain meaning and cloud the meaning in BS.
    They play on peoples assumptions that the lawyer knows more than they, and may know english better than they do. It also plays on the lawyers need to feel superior.

    The Constitution was a document which at the time was written for the people to read and many copies were circulated so each person knew his rights.
    Yet today, The establishment would have us believe we need to have such things explained to us, and they have people, such as lawyers and so called scholars to dissemble the clear meaning of the framers words and intent.
    So I will retype the 2nd amendment and you can decide whether or not the meaning can be disputed.

    A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

    Keep means; well its pretty obvious what keep means. It means; to watch over and defend, to own and to have. Hey I’ll keep that, its mine.

    Bear means; to be equipped or furnished with,
    to exert influence or force

    Some may debate what arms means. Arms is a legal and military term which anyone can look up. It means, in short, any weapon (offensive or defensive) or any technology which may be used in a role of combat (personally or militarily)

    Does the right to bear arms include handguns?
    Is a handgun a weapon, which can be used in combat?

    Well after reading,, everyone could and should come to the conclusion that our right to keep and bear, has been infringed on for years,,Any regulation that restricts your rights (to keep (own) and bear (use)) is an infringement. The 2nd amendment does not mention anything about reasonable regulations except in the case of militias, that they (the militia) be well regulated.
    Now of course thoughs who wish to conceal the facts and intentions of the 2nd amendment are getting their big chance for the grand deception.
    So just get ready for your rights to be infringed upon,,, but really,, its only reasonable that the government which believes the people are to stupid to understand what the 2nd amendment means, plus are willing to bandy words over its meaning, should have the government tell us what it means.
    We all know the government only cares about whats best for us, and they would NEVER think of usurping the power of WE The People. They would never use such a ruling to take our guns, or after doing such a thing, take other rights from us (because we would then have no way to resist them) No this would never be used to further there power over the people as a way to control them. Our government is above such things.
    Hey, this isn’t Germany,,Right??????

  8. pondering_it_all

    The real problem of course, is that the “individual-right” interpretation of the 2nd amendment not only confirms our right to own handguns, it also confirms our right to own personal nuclear weapons and chemical or biological WMD that were not envisioned in 1787. If the Supreme Court does decide in that direction, then I predict a repeal amendment will be in the works the very next day. That amendment would be fast-tracked to almost instant ratification by the states on an emergency basis, and it would be MUCH more explicit in defining the sorts of weapons and the people who could own them without government regulation.

    But historically Supreme Courts have been very reluctant to create this kind of chaos, so I predict they will go with the “state militia” right interpretation that makes every aspect of individual weapon ownership subject to laws and regulations. Then the sticky point will be who gets to create such laws and regulations in the DC and US territories.

    The net result either way will do nothing for gun ownership advocates.

  9. Paolo

    It is clear from both the context of the 2nd Amendment, and from the writings of the Founders, that “well-regulated” meant “well-prepared and well-outfitted.” It most certainly does not mean, “subject to thousands of federal regulations.” If you read the amendment this way, it makes absolutely no sense. In other words, “the right shall not be infringed” (that is, limited in any manner), because we need a militia with lots of regulations (that is, infringements).

    To this day, you can go to gun dealers in various parts of the world, and ask them to “regulate” your firearms. That is, make them ready for use. Clean them, oil them, and “regulate” the sites for accuracy at 100 yards.

  10. DejaVuAllOver

    I guess we’re going to see if the Highest Court is just wacko, or truly evil. It’s going to be hard to cram all the malcontents in FEMA’s prison camps if everyone is armed to the nines, so the fascists will have to take away our guns, first.

    I smell a ninety-foot rat at the doorstep. It’s Republican, flesh eating and filthy.

  11. B Scott

    I’m a D.C. native, and the gun ban has been an abysmal failure. It brings to mind the popular bumper sticker, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” Law abiding citizens don’t have guns, criminals do and they use them every day.

    No matter how many gun bans are created there will always be a criminal who can obtain a gun and bring it into the District. Why not let the citizens protect themselves against attack, injury or death?

    You can discuss the Constitution and it’s meaning either literal or implied and that won’t stop the killing. Where is the equity in mandating that citizens remain defenseless in the face of gun related crimes?