Public Awaits Supreme Court Decision on D.C. Handgun Ban

The scope of a gun rights case that the United States Supreme Court is considering seems at first glance to be rather limited. However, as is true with any case the Supreme Court considers, their decision could have far-reaching ramifications as similar cases are brought to trial all over the United States.

How important is the legal precedent in the case, exactly? For starters, this is the first time that the Supreme Court has considered the Second Amendment-which is the basis for the right of U.S. citizens to bear arms-since 1939.

The case itself, referred to as District of Columbia v. Heller (07-290), focuses on the constitutionality of a Washington, D.C. ban on handguns that first went into effect 32 years ago. Dick Anthony Heller sued the district over refusing to grant him a permit to keep a handgun in his home for self-defense. Heller works as a special police officer for the district.

The Supreme Court’s decision rests on their interpretation of the clause in the Second Amendment granting citizens the constitutional right to bear arms. Here is the relevant section: “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.”

The original federal judge threw the case out on the grounds that since Heller was not a member of a militia; however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. reversed the decision 2 to 1, claiming that the Second Amendment establishes a broader right to bear arms than only related to a militia. The U.S. Supreme Court decided to consider the case after lawyers for the district appealed.

Because of its rarity, the case has enjoyed widespread public popularity, with some spectators camping out in the rain on the courthouse steps to ensure a seat inside. And many constitutional experts are chiming in with their opinions on modern application of the Second Amendment, as well as analysis of how each Supreme Court justice will decide on the case.

During the day of hearings, no justice seemed to support a sweeping interpretation of the amendment throughout a discussion on how modern developments such as the demise of the militia and new technology such as rocket launchers and machine guns might be interpreted in light of the Second Amendment. Still, knowing what their precedent could mean for gun control laws across the United States, it’s hard to predict if the justices will make a decision they know could have far-reaching consequences, or will choose a safer route.

Experts caution that even if the court decides to strike down the handgun ban in the District of Columbia, it doesn’t automatically mean that gun laws everywhere will come toppling down. Many laws in place regulating the sale and possession of guns, such as background checks and automatic-weapon restrictions, will likely not be affected by this ruling.