In a landmark opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the right to keep and bear arms, recognized in the Second Amendment, is an individual right of all Americans unconnected with service in a militia. (Read the decision.)
Americans may use arms like handguns for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. Six District of Columbia residents originally brought suit challenging the gun ban that virtually forbids the ownership of any handgun and outlaws the functional storage or use of any long gun within the District.
The Supreme Court heard the remaining claim of a D.C. special policeman who wanted a license to keep a handgun at home. The court ordered the District to grant his request. Naturally, the court also held that the right is not without its limits, and suggested that laws forbidding felons and the mentally ill from possessing guns, imposing certain licensing conditions, and limiting possession in such sensitive places as schools and government buildings may be permissible.
Finally, the court held that the District’s trigger-lock requirement for long guns (as it applies in D.C. and prevents ready self-defense) and total ban on handguns were unconstitutional. The District’s ban on an entire class of arms that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self defense cannot stand. The court held that those provisions would fail any of the traditional tests applied to fundamental rights, rejecting a freewheeling “interest balancing” test favored by Breyer and leaving for future cases the question of what precise test will apply to other restrictions.
Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer each dissented, joined by David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. All the opinions total almost 150 pages.
On a side note, congratulations to Alan Gura, Bob Levy and Clark Neily for their years of hard work on this landmark victory. Congratulations are also in order for all the other individuals and groups who filed briefs, helped in moots, and otherwise assisted in this case.
UPDATE — 3:11 p.m.: My colleague Andrew Grossman has written a piece for Human Events about today’s ruling.