District of Columbia v. Heller

PETITIONER: District of Columbia et al.
RESPONDENT: Dick Anthony Heller
LOCATION: Metropolitan Police Department

DOCKET NO.: 07-290
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 554 US 570 (2008)
GRANTED: Nov 20, 2007
ARGUED: Mar 18, 2008
DECIDED: Jun 26, 2008

ADVOCATES:
Alan Gura - on behalf of the Respondents
Paul D. Clement - on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Petitioners
Walter E. Dellinger, III - on behalf of the Petitioners

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.

Question

Do the provisions of the District of Columbia Code that restrict the licensing of handguns and require licensed firearms kept in the home to be kept nonfunctional violate the Second Amendment?

Media for District of Columbia v. Heller

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 18, 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 26, 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Scalia also has our opinion this morning in case 07-290, District of Columbia versus Heller.

Antonin Scalia:

If you can bear with me, I -- I can do it.

This case is hereon writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

District of Columbia law bans handgun possession by making it a crime to carry an unregistered firearm, prohibiting the registration of handguns and providing separately that no person may carry a handgun not licensed by the chief of police who was authorized to issue one year licenses.

In addition, it requires residents to keep lawfully owned firearms which would include long guns, unloaded and dissembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device.

Respondent Heller, a D.C. special policeman, applied to register a handgun he wished to keep at home, but the District refused.

He filed this suit seeking, on Second Amendment grounds, to enjoin the city from enforcing the ban on handgun registration, the licensing requirement insofar as it prohibits carrying an unlicensed firearm in the home and the trigger-lock requirement insofar as it prohibits the use of functional firearms in the home.

The District Court dismissed the suit, but the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, holding that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to posses firearms and that the city's total ban on handguns, as well as its requirement that firearms in the home be kept nonfunctional even when necessary for self defense, violated this right.

The Court of Appeals directed the District Court to enter summary judgment for respondent.

In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we affirm the judgment of the District of Columbia Circuit.

We hold that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to have unused arms for self defense in the home and that the District's handgun ban as well as its requirement that firearms in the home be rendered inoperative, violates that right.

Our opinion is very lengthy examining in detail, the text and history of the Second Amendment.

This summary that I'm giving will state little more than the conclusions.

If you want to check their validity against the dissents' contrary claims, you will have to read some 154 pages of opinions.

The Second Amendment provides "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 interpretive difficulty and what causes some people to think that it confers only a collective, rather than an individual right, and others including the petitioners here to think that it isn't individual right but only to keep and bear arms for service in a militia.

The interpretive difficulty that produces those positions is of course the prologue, a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State.

It's a standard principle of interpretation and was in 1791 that a prologue cannot limit the scope of the operative text which often goes beyond the narrow purpose set forth in a prologue.

It would be peculiar, however, for the prologue positively to contradict the text.

So, we examine first the operative portion of the amendment, namely, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

We conclude after examining many uses of keep arms and bear arms, contemporaneous with and prior to the adoption of the Second Amendment that it means pretty much what it means today to have and carry weapons.

Those old sources refute the notion that bear arms alone or keep in bear arms in combination has an exclusively military connotation.

To be sure when one was a soldier, he bore arms, but one could bear arms without being a soldier.

The same conclusion that the phrase does not refer to military service is demanded by the fact that it was universally understood that the Second Amendment incorporated in to the Federal Constitution, a preexisting right of Englishman set forth in the 1689 English Bill of Rights, that's why it reads shall not be infringed, the right shall not be infringed, referring to a preexisting right and everybody agrees with that.

There is no doubt that the English right was an individual right to have and carry arms.

We then turn to the prologue to see if it is incompatible with the interpretation we have given the operative clause, it is not.

In fact, that interpretation that she is the object of the prologue more effectively than would a mere right to have and bear arms in an organized militia.

The militia consisted of all male citizens capable of military service.

That was thought to be a protection against, not only attack from abroad, but tyranny at home.

In the events that had given rise to the English Bill of Rights, the Stuart Kings had not abolished the people's militia, but had simply taken away the people's arms or the arms of their opponents, leaving in place only a standing army and a select militia dominated by their own supporters.