554 U.S. 570 (2008), 07-290, District of Columbia v. Heller

Docket Nº:07-290.
Citation:554 U.S. 570, 128 S.Ct. 2783, 171 L.Ed.2d 637, 76 U.S.L.W. 4631
Opinion Judge:Scalia, Justice.
Party Name:DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA et al., Petitioners, v. Dick Anthony HELLER.
Attorney:Walter Dellinger argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Peter J. Nickles, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Linda Singer, former Attorney- General for the District of Columbia, Alan B. Morrison, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, Donna M. Murasky, Deputy Solicitor...
Judge Panel:Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C.J., and KENNEDY, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SOUTER, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, SOUTER, and GINSBURG, JJ., jo...
Case Date:June 26, 2008
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 570

554 U.S. 570 (2008)

128 S.Ct. 2783, 171 L.Ed.2d 637, 76 U.S.L.W. 4631

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA et al., Petitioners,

v.

Dick Anthony HELLER.

No. 07-290.

United States Supreme Court

June 26, 2008

Argued March 18, 2008.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT No. 07-290.

Syllabus

District of Columbia law bans handgun possession by making it a crime to carry an unregistered firearm and prohibiting the registration of handguns; provides separately that no person may carry an unlicensed handgun, but authorizes the police chief to issue 1-year licenses; and requires residents to keep lawfully owned firearms unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device. Respondent Heller, a D. C. special policeman, applied to register a handgun he wished to keep at home, but the District refused. He filed this suit seeking, on Second Amendment grounds, to enjoin the city from enforcing the bar on handgun registration, the licensing requirement insofar as it prohibits carrying an unlicensed firearm in the home, and the trigger-lock requirement insofar as it prohibits the use of functional firearms in the home. The [128 S.Ct. 2786] District Court dismissed the suit, but the D. C. Circuit reversed, holding that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess firearms and that the city's total ban on handguns, as well as its requirement that firearms in the home be kept nonfunctional even when necessary for self-defense, violated that right.

Held:

1. 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. Pp. 576-626.

(a) The Amendment's prefatory clause announces a purpose, but does not limit or expand the scope of the second part, the operative clause. The operative clause's text and history demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms. Pp. 567-595.

(b) The prefatory clause comports with the Court's interpretation of the operative clause. The "militia" comprised all males physically capable of acting in concert for the common defense. The Anti-federalists feared that the Federal Government would disarm the people in order to disable this citizens' militia, enabling a politicized standing army or a select militia to rule. The response was to deny Congress power to abridge the ancient right of individuals to keep and bear arms, so that the ideal of a citizens' militia would be preserved. Pp. 595-600.

Page 571

(c) The Court's interpretation is confirmed by analogous arms-bearing rights in state constitutions that preceded and immediately followed the Second Amendment. Pp. 600-603.

(d) The Second Amendment's drafting history, while of dubious interpretive worth, reveals three state Second Amendment proposals that unequivocally referred to an individual right to bear arms. Pp. 603-605.

(e) Interpretation of the Second Amendment by scholars, courts and legislators, from immediately after its ratification through the late 19th century also supports the Court's conclusion. Pp. 605-619.

(f) None of the Court's precedents forecloses the Court's interpretation. Neither United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542, 553, 23 L.Ed. 588, nor Presser v. Illinois, 116 U.S. 252, 264-265, 6 S.Ct. 580, 29 L.Ed. 615, refutes the individual-rights interpretation. United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174, 59 S.Ct. 816, 83 L.Ed. 1206, does not limit the right to keep and bear arms to militia purposes, but rather limits the type of weapon to which the right applies to those used by the militia, i.e., those in common use for lawful purposes. Pp. 619-626.

2. 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. Miller's holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those "in common use at the time" finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons. Pp. 626-628.

3. The handgun ban and the trigger-lock requirement (as applied to self-defense) violate the Second Amendment. [128 S.Ct. 2787] The District's total ban on handgun possession in the home amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of "arms" that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense. Under any of the standards of scrutiny the Court has applied to enumerated constitutional rights, this prohibition-in the place where the importance of the lawful defense of self, family, and property is most acute-would fail constitutional muster. Similarly, the requirement that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock makes it impossible for citizens to use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional. Because Heller conceded at oral argument that the D. C. licensing law is permissible if it is not enforced arbitrarily and capriciously, the Court assumes that a license will satisfy his prayer for relief and

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does not address the licensing requirement. Assuming he is not disqualified from exercising Second Amendment rights, the District must permit Heller to register his handgun and must issue him a license to carry it in the home. Pp. 628-636.

478 F.3d 370, affirmed.

Walter Dellinger argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Peter J. Nickles, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Linda Singer, former Attorney- General for the District of Columbia, Alan B. Morrison, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, Donna M. Murasky, Deputy Solicitor General, Lutz Alexander Prager, Robert A. Long, Jr., Jonathan L. Marcus, Thomas C. Goldstein, Matthew M Shors, and Mark S. Davies.

Alan Gura argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Robert A. Levy and Clark M. Neily III.

Former Solicitor General Clement argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance. With him on the brief were Acting Solicitor General Garre, Assistant Attorney General Fisher, Acting Assistant Attorney General Bucholtz, Malcolm L. Stewart, and Stephen R. Rubenstein[*]

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C.J., and KENNEDY, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SOUTER, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, SOUTER, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined.

Page 573

OPINION

Scalia, Justice.

We consider whether a District of Columbia prohibition on the possession of [128 S.Ct. 2788] usable handguns in the home violates the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

Page 574

I

The District of Columbia generally prohibits the possession of handguns. It is a crime to carry an unregistered

Page 575

firearm, and the registration of handguns is prohibited. See D. C. Code §§7-2501.01(12), 7-2502.01(a), 7- 2502.02(a)(4) (2001). Wholly apart from that prohibition, no person may carry a handgun without a license, but the chief of police may issue licenses for 1-year periods. See §§22-4504(a), 22-4506. District of Columbia law also requires residents to keep their lawfully owned firearms, such as registered long guns, "unloaded and dissembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device" unless they are located in a place of business or are being used for lawful recreational activities. See §7-2507.02. 1

Respondent Dick Heller is a D. C. special police officer authorized to carry a handgun while on duty at the Federal Judicial Center. He applied for a registration certificate for a handgun that he wished to keep at home, but the District refused. He thereafter filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia seeking,

Page 576

on Second Amendment grounds, to enjoin the city from enforcing the bar on the registration of handguns, the licensing requirement insofar as it prohibits the carrying of a firearm in the home without a license, and the trigger-lock requirement insofar as it prohibits the use of "functional firearms within the home." App. 59a. The District Court dismissed respondent's complaint, see Parker v. District of Columbia, 311 F.Supp.2d 103, 109 (2004). The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, construing his complaint as seeking the right to render a firearm operable and carry it about his home in that condition only when necessary for self-defense, 2 reversed, see Parker v. District of Columbia, 478 F.3d 370, 401 (2007). It held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess firearms and that the city's total ban on handguns, as well as its requirement that firearms in the home be kept nonfunctional even when necessary for self-defense, violated that right. See id., at 395, 399-401. The Court of Appeals directed the District Court to enter summary judgment for respondent.

We granted certiorari. 552 U.S. __, 128 S.Ct. 645, 169 L.Ed.2d 417 (2007).

II

We turn first to the meaning of the Second Amendment.

A

The Second Amendment provides: "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." In interpreting...

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