Supreme Court Rules 5-4 That Individuals Have Constitutional Right to Own Guns

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Bishop The Register-Guard

The right to bear arms belongs to individuals, independent of any connection with service in a militia, the U.S. Supreme Court said Thursday in a ruling that addressed a key point of the Second Amendment for the first time since its enactment more than two centuries ago.

In a 64-page ruling in District of Columbia vs. Heller, the 5-4 majority struck down a series of regulations in Washington, D.C., that banned handguns and required any firearms in private homes to be unloaded, locked up or disassembled.

The justices said the ban on handguns and regulations that disable rifles and shotguns in private homes infringe on the individual right of citizens to bear arms.

The ruling settled the core question of whether the clumsily worded amendment - "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" - granted the right contingent upon service in a militia.

However, the court stated clearly that its ruling does not cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on firearms possession by felons and the mentally ill, or on bans to carrying firearms in schools and government buildings, or on laws governing gun dealers.

Writing the majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia rebutted the main points voiced in 90 pages of dissenting opinion filed by the minority, who mainly argued that the amendment was a collective right to bear arms as part of a militia and not an individual right conferred upon every citizen.

Joining Scalia were Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito Jr. In the minority were Justices John Paul Stephens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

In the majority opinion, Scalia traced the history of arms regulations in England, whose laws are the historic basis for much of the U.S. Constitution. He noted that the founders were well aware that prior to the birth of England's modern parliamentary democracy in 1688, kings had routinely suppressed political dissidents, in part by disarming broad segments of society.

Based on records of the founders' debates over the Second Amendment, Scalia determined that the mention of militias in the first clause of the amendment stems from significant worries among the founders that the country's new federal government would trample the rights of states to maintain their own militias.

The court said the inclusion of the phrase referring to militias does not restrict the operative phrase "the right of the people." As with the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment, the Second Amendment put into force a pre-existing individual right, the majority concluded.

"The very text of the Second Amendment implicitly recognizes the pre-existence of the right and declares only that it shall not be infringed," Scalia wrote. …