“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”. This, the wording of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, has caused great debate throughout our country’s history. In efforts to reduce high rates or crime and to promote safety, many laws have been passed in an attempt to regulate ownership and use of firearms. Until now, courts have been hesitant to examine the issue as to whether regulations violate a person’s constitutionally protected right to bear arms.
Recently, Washington DC resident Dick Anthony Heller, a security guard by profession, challenged the District’s 32-year old ban on handguns when his application to keep a handgun in his home was rejected. The United States Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of Heller and struck down the District’s ban on handguns, stating that the Constitution does not allow for an absolute ban on handgun ownership as this would conflict with one’s right to bear arms. The District appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The Appellate Court’s decision even caused a split in the White House; Vice-President Chaney openly supported the ruling, while others in the administration feared that if the Supreme Court were to uphold the decision, it could have grave effects on current gun laws throughout the country.
The decision to uphold the Appellate ruling was made by a 5-4 majority; Justice’s Scalia, Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, and Thomas ruled in favor of striking-down the ban. Justice Scalia, who wrote the opinion of the Court, stated that nothing in the decision should “cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings”. No comments were made regarding other types of regulation, such as federal restrictions on the sale of machine guns. Following the outcome of this case, the National Rifle association plans to bring lawsuits to challenge similar handgun restrictions in San Francisco and Chicago.
About a month ago, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan struck down legislation which would have restricted purchases of firearms to one per month and also would have outlawed assault weapons, finding that both laws were unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case would affirm those decisions.