Supremes to Weigh in on Handguns Ban

High court to review appeal court decision that struck down 31-year-old firearms ban in D.C.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Nov. 20 that it would review an appeals court decision that struck down a 31-year-old ban on handguns in Washington, D.C. The case, which will be heard early in 2008, will address the question of whether the Second Amend­ment protects either the individual's right to possess firearms or the collective right. A decision by the court upholding an individual right to bear arms could open the door to numerous challenges of state regulations that variously restrict firearm ownership.

A city ordinance passed in 1976 allows D.C. residents to keep disassembled or trigger-locked shotguns or hunting rifles at home but bans the personal ownership of handguns except by police. A group of six D.C. residents has challenged that law, arguing it denied their right to have "functional firearms" at home for personal protection, reports the Los Angeles Times. District officials argue that easily concealed firearms are tied to violent crime and that the regulation of handgun ownership in D.C. actually dates back to 1858, when Congress was still in charge of legislating law for the city. In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of city residents, opining the handgun ban violates the Second Amendment, which states, "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." Whether that clause protects a state right or an individual right to be armed has long been a matter of much debate, though the Supremes have not addressed the matter since 1939 when, in a case styled U.S. v. Miller, the court ruled unanimously to uphold suspected bank robber Jack Miller's conviction for transporting a sawed-off shotgun across state lines. The federal district court had ruled in Miller's favor, opining that the National Firearms Act of 1934, which required certain firearms to be registered – including automatic weapons, short-barreled rifles, and shotguns – violated the Sec­ond Amendment. In a unanimous ruling, the Supremes reversed that decision, opining that in the "absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of [a sawed-off shotgun] at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument."

The court is expected to hear the current case, styled D.C. v. Heller, in March and to issue a decision by summer.

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