Divided Court Finds Individual Right to Own Guns

July 7, 2008 - 8:24 PM

(Editor's note: More reaction will be added as it is received)

(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, has struck down the District of Columbia's handgun ban.

The ruling says Americans have the individual right to own guns for self-defense and hunting, the Associated Press reported. It is the high court's first definitive Second Amendment ruling in U.S. history.

The Supreme Court held that "The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home."

But the court also found limitations: "Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court's opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."

Swift reaction

"We're pleased that the Supreme Court affirmed that the Second Amendment protects the right of Americans to keep and bear arms," White House spokesman Dana Perino said in a statement.

"This is a great day for law-abiding citizens of the nation's capital who have unjustly been denied their full right to protect themselves and families for over 30 years," said Deneen Borelli, a member of the Project 21 black leadership network.

"The Second Amendment guarantees the individual right of citizens to arm themselves for self-defense and not become easy prey. Perhaps the government should find a better way to keep illegal guns away from criminals and not law-abiding citizens," Borelli added.

"This opinion still allows commonsense gun control laws -- restrictions to make us all safer," said Paul Helmke, head of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Helmke noted that today's ruling does not erase the many existing limitations on guns -- who may carry them, where they may be carried, and conditions of sale, for example.

It's clear that that what the court did today -- they limited the extremes," Helmke said. "They said that you can no longer have total prohibitions on guns, but they also said you can have reasonable restrictions on guns."

He noted existing limitations on who may own guns, where guns may be taken, conditions of sale.

Helmke expects there will be many more court cases and challenges as courts around the country fight over the meaning of the Second Amendment. "It means that there will be a lot more challenges to come," he said.

The ruling "will go down as one of the Supreme Court's most important rulings on behalf of liberty," said Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr.

Until today, the Court had never held that the Second Amendment directly applied to individuals. "Today's decision marks a new era for gun rights in America," said Barr, who is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association.

Barr said the right to self-defense is particularly important for people in cities where crime rates are high -- and where a gun may be the only means for law-abiding citizens to safeguard themselves and their families.

Barr also said it's important to have a president who supports the right of Americans to own firearms.

"Sen. Barack Obama says that he believes in such a constitutional right, but he supports the District of Columbia's ban, which gives criminals an advantage over law-abiding citizens," Barr said.

Sen. McCain has not advocated an absolute prohibition, "but he
Co-sponsored legislation which could require registration of attendees at gun shows and even ban such shows," Barr added.

Background

In March, a federal appeals court in the District of Columbia struck down the city's three-decades handgun ban, ruling in favor of several Washington residents who wanted guns for self-defense.

The court ruled that "the bar on carrying a pistol within the home amounts to a complete prohibition on the lawful use of handguns for self-defense. As such, we hold it unconstitutional."

The city appealed to the Supreme Court.

"What is reasonable about a total ban on possession?" Chief Justice John Roberts asked at one point during oral arguments in March. It was an indication of which way the court was learning.

Even a major gun-control group has called this "the most significant Second Amendment case in the nation's history."

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence urged the Supreme Court to "uphold the right of people in communities like the District to enact common sense gun measures they feel are needed to protect themselves and their families."

The court's ruling that the District's gun ban is unconstitutional "would grant courts unprecedented authority to nullify elected officials' decisions to adopt laws they believe are necessary to protect their communities from gun violence," the Brady Campaign said on its Web site.