On June 26, 2008, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a landmark decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. This case represents the first time the Court has considered in detail the nature and scope of the Second Amendment.
At issue were the District of Columbia’s laws which largely ban all handgun possession within the city and which require all long arms to be unloaded and either disassembled or fitted with a trigger lock, rendering them essentially unavailable for self defense as “functional firearms.”
The Court, in a 5-4 decision which struck down both the outright handgun ban and the “functional firearms” ban, held that the Second Amendment guarantees a strong individual right to keep and bear arms, which includes the right to have arms for self defense in the home.
There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is an excellent result which gun owners should be very pleased with. The decision clearly and unambiguously establishes the strong and fundamental nature of the individual right to keep and bear arms.
Significantly, however, the Court noted that the right to keep and bear arms is not without limitations, just as the right to free speech is not unlimited. The Court stated that its decision should not be read to cast doubt on such laws as long standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, or in such sensitive places as schools or government buildings and the like. Thus, the Court clearly signaled that there are a variety of gun laws which are permissible under the Second Amendment.
This has two significant implications for the future. First, it will take many future lawsuits to establish precisely what sort of laws are and are not permissible under the Second Amendment. Both sides will likely find themselves fighting that battle vigorously.
Second, those laws that are, in fact, permitted under the Second Amendment will form the fertile ground upon which future political activity will rest. It will remain the province of law abiding gun owners to oppose, politically, gun laws which, though constitutional, are nevertheless unwise and harmful to liberty and safety.
The Liberty Crew
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