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United States: Supreme Court Holds That Constitution Protects an Individual Right to Own Firearms for Self-Defense

(July 2, 2008) On June 26, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution confers an individual right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes such as self-defense. It further ruled that District of Columbia laws that banned handguns and required firearms in the home to be disassembled or locked violates this right.

The Second Amendment provides that “[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.” When a D.C. resident's application to register a handgun he wished to keep at home was denied, he filed suit under the Second Amendment. The suit ultimately reached the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court found that the operative clause of the Second Amendment, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” guarantees an individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation, and the Amendment's prefatory clause, “[a] well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” does not limit the operative clause.

While the Court stated that the right to keep and bear arms is subject to regulation, it found that the D.C. ban on handgun possession violated the right because it prohibited an entire class of arms favored for the lawful purpose of self-defense in the home. It similarly found that the requirement that lawful firearms be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock made it impossible for citizens to effectively use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense, and therefore also violated the right. (District of Columbia v. Heller, No. 07-290 (June 26, 2008), available at http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/07pdf/07-290.pdf.)