The US Supreme Court has agreed to examine one of the most
disputed provisions of the Constitution - the Second Amendment right
to keep and bear arms.
On Tuesday, the justices announced they will take up an appeal
involving the constitutionality of a Washington, D.C., law that bans
the use or possession of all handguns.
The case is expected to make guns a key issue in next year's
presidential and congressional elections, with the high court likely
to hand down a decision in late June - four months before voters go
to the polls.
Analysts are calling it political dynamite.
"This will be one of the biggest decisions ever to come down at
that part of the political schedule," says Paul Helmke, president of
the Washington-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
"For the first time in history we could get a definitive ruling
on what the Second Amendment really means," adds Dave Workman, an
editor at Gun Week in Bellevue, Wash. "Gun rights is going to become
a centerpiece of the 2008 presidential race, whether these guys like
it or not."
The case, District of Columbia v. Heller, will take the justices
back to the founding of the republic to the speeches and writings of
the framers themselves in an effort to decode a constitutional
enigma that has divided appeals court judges and the nation's most
distinguished legal scholars.
The potential landmark case is the first time since 1939 that the
Supreme Court will confront whether the Second Amendment protects an
individual's right of gun ownership or merely a collective right to
keep and bear arms while serving in a state militia.
The answer is important because it could set the ground rules for
gun-control laws across the country. If the right to keep and bear
arms is an individual right, it will limit government efforts to
restrict the prevalence of guns among law-abiding citizens. Gun-
control efforts would have to be reasonably related to a government
interest, and entire categories of firearms - like handguns - could
not be banned.
In contrast, if the right to keep and bear arms is a collective
right exercised solely for the purpose of serving in a state
militia, individual gun owners could not claim the protection of the
Constitution against gun-control laws regulating the private use of
The Second Amendment reads: "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."
Some analysts read the amendment as providing for an armed
populace and say the first clause is an explanatory statement of the
necessity of having an effective military force at the state level -
independent of the national government.
Other analysts see the first clause limiting the scope of the
right to possess and use weapons to enrolled service in a state-
The Founding Fathers didn't simply write the Constitution. They
also had to sell it to reluctant state residents who were fearful
that the army of the national government might become as oppressive
as the British military. The Second Amendment seeks to answer that
Under the new government, each of the states would retain their
ability to organize their own militia. The basic building block of
the militia was an able-bodied citizen who reported for state
military service, sometimes with his own military-grade weapon. …