March 9, 2007
The New York Times
Appeals Court Says Gun Ban Violates 2nd Amendment
By ADAM LIPTAK
A federal appeals court in Washington today struck down on Second Amendment grounds a gun control law in the District of Columbia that bars residents from keeping handguns in their homes.
The court relied on a constitutional interpretation that has been rejected by nine federal appeals courts around the nation. The decision was the first from a federal appeals court to hold a gun-control law unconstitutional on the ground that the Second Amendment protects the rights of individuals, as opposed to a collective right of state militias.
Linda Singer, the district’s acting attorney general, said the decision was “a huge setback.”
“We’ve been making progress on bringing down crime and gun violence, and this sends us in a different direction,” Ms. Singer said.
Lawyers on both sides of the case said the decision had created a conflict among the federal courts of appeals on a significant constitutional issue, making review by the Supreme Court likely.
The case was brought by Dick Heller, a police officer in the district who was permitted to carry a gun on duty and wanted to keep one at home. His application was denied.
He challenged provisions of the district’s law that barred the registration of handguns, that prohibited carrying handguns without a license even from one room of a private home to another, and that required lawfully owned firearms to be kept unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.
In a 2-to-1 decision, a panel of the court, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, ruled those provisions unconstitutional. The Second Amendment says, “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 basic question in the case was whether the first clause limits the second one.
Most federal appeals courts have said that the amendment, read as a whole, protects only a collective right of the states to maintain militias — in modern terms, the National Guard. But in yesterday’s decision, the majority focused on the second clause, saying that the amendment broadly protects the rights of individuals to own guns — an approach that has been embraced by the Justice Department and by some constitutional scholars.