Summary of D.C. v. Heller
Relevant Facts: In 1976, The District of Columbia had banned the possession of handguns. The applicable laws maintained that individuals could own firearms but that they had to be kept unloaded or the trigger had to be locked, unless they were currently using them during a recreational activity. The law effectively made carrying a concealed weapon – or to have one kept in one’s home without a license – a crime. Heller, a police officer, wanted to register a gun (not his service weapon) for use at home for self defense, but he sued the District of Columbia because he did not want to register it. He argued in his suit that the District of Columbia’s ban was unconstitutional on Second Amendment grounds, and therefore petitioned for an injunction in the matter regarding his ability to register a gun for his home without a registration. The District Court disagreed with Heller’s claims, found that the right to bear arms only applies to militias, and dismissed his lawsuit. The matter was appealed and sent to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which reversed the lower court’s decision; the petitioner petitioned the Supreme Court on the matter
Issue: The legal question at hand was whether the D.C. law’s provisions banning the registration of handguns, as well as the prohibition of them without a license, along with the provisions to keep such guns unloaded or locked, violated individuals’ Second Amendment rights, when they seek to use such weapons outside of a militia.
Holding: The Court found that the DC code provisions did in fact violate the petitioner’s Second Amendment rights.
Majority Opinion Reasoning: The Court reasoned that while the Second Amendment does clearly mention that individuals may use firearms while serving in a militia, the Court also looked at the intent and tradition of the Constitution and the reasoning behind the amendment, which overwhelmingly included viewing an individual’s right to protect himself and implicitly his family in his home as sacrosanct. In short, firearms need not only be used in militias, they could reasonably be used in the context of self-defense.
Dissenting Opinion: Associate Justices Stevens and Breyer presented dissenting opinions, arguing that principally, the Second Amendment only permits individuals to use guns while serving in a militia. However, they also asserted that even if, for argument’s sake, individuals could possess firearms for other reasons other than serving in a militia, the legislation could only be unconstitutional if it were “unreasonable of inappropriate." The associate justices argued that based on the facts and presumably the intent of the District of Columbia of stemming gun violence, the legislation was neither “unreasonable" nor “inappropriate."
Conclusion: This case was particularly significant because it was the first Supreme Court case to address the issue of whether individuals are constitutionally given the right to carry a firearm for self defense purposes. It should be noted, however, that the Supreme Court did not address the legal question as to whether the Second Amendment applies to the states in the same manner it does federal enclaves, of which D.C. is categorized.