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District of Columbia v. Heller

Docket No. Op. Below Argument Opinion Vote Author Term
07-290 D.C. Cir. Mar 18, 2008
Tr.Aud.
Jun 26, 2008 5-4 Scalia OT 2007

Holding: (1) The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. (2) 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 whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the amendment or state analogues. The court's opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. The holding in United States v. Miller that the sorts of weapons protected are those "in common use at the time" finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons. (3) The handgun ban and the trigger-lock requirement (as applied to self-defense) violate the Second Amendment. The District of Columbia's total ban on handgun possession in the home amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of "arms" that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense. Under any of the standards of scrutiny the court has applied to enumerated constitutional rights, this prohibition -- in the place where the importance of the lawful defense of self, family and property is most acute -- would fail constitutional muster. Similarly, the requirement that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock makes it impossible for citizens to use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional. Because Dick Heller conceded at oral argument that the D. C. licensing law is permissible if it is not enforced arbitrarily and capriciously, the court assumes that a license will satisfy his prayer for relief and does not address the licensing requirement. Assuming he is not disqualified from exercising Second Amendment rights, the district must permit Heller to register his handgun and must issue him a license to carry it in the home.

Judgment: Affirmed, 5-4, in an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia on June 26, 2008. Justice Stevens filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer joined. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg joined.

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