District of Columbia v. Heller Case Brief

Facts of the case

Provisions of the District of Columbia Code made it illegal to carry an unregistered firearm and prohibited the registration of handguns, though the chief of police could issue one-year licenses for handguns. The Code also contained provisions that required owners of lawfully registered firearms to keep them unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock or other similar device unless the firearms were located in a place of business or being used for legal recreational activities.Dick Anthony Heller was a D.C. special police officer who was authorized to carry a handgun while on duty. He applied for a one-year license for a handgun he wished to keep at home, but his application was denied. Heller sued the District of Columbia. He sought an injunction against the enforcement of the relevant parts of the Code and argued that they violated his Second Amendment right to keep a functional firearm in his home without a license. The district court dismissed the complaint. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed and held that the Second Amendment protects the right to keep firearms in the home for the purpose of self-defense, and the District of Columbia’s requirement that firearms kept in the home be nonfunctional violated that right.

Why is the case important?

The District of Columbia has a ban on handguns, and in addition prohibits them from being in the home unless they are disabled.&nbsp Respondent Heller brings an action claiming that this complete ban violates the 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms.


Does the District of Columbia’s prohibition on the possession of usable handguns in the home violate the 2nd Amendment?


A complete ban on handgun possession in the home violates the 2nd Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home inoperable for the purpose of immediate self defense.


Assuming respondent was not disqualified from exercising Second Amendment rights, the Court held that the District must permit respondent to register his handgun and must issue him a license to carry it in his home. The Court held that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia and to use that firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. The Court determined that the Second Amendment’s prefatory clause announced a purpose but did not limit or expand the scope of the operative clause. The operative clause’s text and history demonstrated that it connoted an individual right to keep and bear arms, and the Court’s reading of the operative clause was consistent with the announced purpose of the prefatory clause. None of the Court’s precedents foreclosed its conclusions. The Court held that the Second Amendment right was not unlimited, and it noted that its opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on certain long-standing prohibitions related to firearms.

  • Advocates: Walter E. Dellinger, III on behalf of the Petitioners Paul D. Clement on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Petitioners Alan Gura on behalf of the Respondents
  • Petitioner: District of Columbia et al.
  • Respondent: Dick Anthony Heller
  • DECIDED BY:Roberts Court
  • Location: Metropolitan Police Department
Citation: 554 US 570 (2008)
Granted: Nov 20, 2007
Argued: Mar 18, 2008
Decided: Jun 26, 2008
District of Columbia v. Heller Case Brief