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D.C. v. Heller

Full name: District of Columbia, et al. v. Heller

Click here to read the decision

Samuel Alito
Anthony Kennedy
John G. Roberts
Antonin Scalia
Clarence Thomas

Stephen Breyer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
David Souter
John Paul Stevens

Note: Court justices do not represent any political party. The color of each judge's name represents the political party of the president who appointed the judge.

Click here for a list of all Supreme Court justices

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Constitution protects gun ownership

The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution's Second Amendment protects an individual right to own a gun for personal use.

How did this case come about?

Washington, D.C. had enacted a ban on handguns, and required that firearms kept in a home be kept nonfunctional.

Dick Heller, a police officer, applied for a permit to keep a handgun in his Washington, DC home, saying it was for self-defense. He was denied. He sued, claiming the refusal violated his rights under the Second Amendment.

Majority: Right extends beyond militia, and beyond 18th century weapons

In his majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the prefatory clause of the amendment - A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State - does not limit the clause to that reason only.

Scalia reasoned that a militia at the time was limited to males of a certain age, while the phrase the right of the people to keep and bear arms would be expected to apply to "all members of a political community."

"Nowhere else in the Constitution does a 'right' attributed to 'the people' refer to anything other than an individual right," he wrote.

Scalia wrote that the definition of the word "arms" in use in 1773 was not limited to items with military use. He labeled the argument that only those in existence in the 18th century are protected as "bordering on the frivolous."

"Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications ... the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding," he wrote.

Scalia wrote, however, that the Second Amendment does not protect "those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes."

Dissent: Amendment meant specifically for militia

In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the Second Amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people to maintain a well-regulated militia.

"Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments (presented) evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature's authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms," he wrote.

The preamble states the object of the Amendment, Stevens wrote. Quoting Marbury v. Madison, he wrote "it cannot be presumed that any clause in the constitution is intended to be without effect."

More information

For more, read the New York Times article.

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