U.S. Supreme Court Rules DC Gun Ban Is Unconstitutional: Experts Comment

Published June 26, 2007

The United States Supreme Court ruled Thursday the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution codifies the inherent human right to “keep and bear arms” for self-defense. The 5-4 decision therefore held unconstitutional Washington, DC’s ban on handgun possession by persons within their homes.

The Heartland Institute submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court in the case, noting among other things that gun bans mean law-abiding citizens can’t acquire weapons but criminals can, especially in the DC area. The brief was cited in Justice Breyer’s dissent.

Breyer conceded, “the District’s crime rate went up after the District adopted its hand gun ban” and “foreign nations with strict gun laws have higher crime rates,” but he saw no causal relationship. Heartland’s brief was authored by Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law school professor and Second Amendment scholar, and Richard K. Willard and Josh L. Kreamer of Steptoe & Johnson LLP. Three of Volokh’s other scholarly writings were cited in the Court’s opinion.

Second Amendment experts contacted by The Heartland Institute hailed the Court’s ruling. In your coverage of this news event or your analysis, you may find the following comments useful. You may quote these statements or contact the experts directly.

“The ruling was a victory for originalism, the belief ‘that the written Constitution is our fundamental law and that it binds all of us–even Supreme Court justices,’ as Steven G. Calabresi, a Northwestern University law professor, wrote in Originalism: A Quarter-Century of Debate (2007).

“The Supreme Court opinion, authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, also quoted nineteenth century constitutional scholar St. George Tucker, who wrote ‘The right to self-defence is the first law of nature’ and when individuals are prohibited from keeping and bearing arms, ‘liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.’

“This ruling was a victory for freedom and a defeat for activist judging and nanny-state government, whose adherents have been stopping us from protecting ourselves and our loved ones from violent crime.”

Maureen Martin
Senior Fellow for Legal Affairs
The Heartland Institute
(920) 229-6670
[email protected]

“This case has always been about more than the right to own guns. It’s a case about liberty and the government’s obligation to respect constitutional rights that it might prefer to ignore.

“Today’s ruling is a tremendous victory for freedom and the rule of law in America. The Court has affirmed that the people’s right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, regardless of whether the government’s efforts are well-meaning or, as in this case, utterly misguided.”

Clark Neily
Co-counsel for the Plaintiffs
Senior Attorney
Institute for Justice
(202) 425-7499
[email protected]

“The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 margin, held that the Second Amendment secures an individual right to keep and bear arms. The majority held that the law prohibits federal handgun bans–such as the DC handgun ban, which the Court struck down–and opened the door to challenges to state and local handgun bans as well. The conservative Justices’ majority opinion is consistent with the views of the American public, though it reverses the contrary view of many judges on lower federal courts.”

Eugene Volokh
Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law
UCLA School of Law
(310) 890-5619
[email protected]

“For the first time in nearly seven decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has pronounced, clearly and unequivocally, that the Second Amendment secures an individual right to keep and bear arms, not necessarily limited to exercise within a militia context. Now residents of Washington, DC will be able to possess functional firearms within their homes and use them, if necessary, to defend themselves against violent criminals. The city will be a safer place as a result.

“More litigation is yet to come. Because Washington, DC is unique as a federal enclave, which is controlled by Congress, the Court must still resolve the question whether the Second Amendment applies against states and municipalities. The Court will also have to flesh out what regulations will be permissible under an individual rights view of the Second Amendment. That said, today’s opinion is unambiguously good news for those who honor the Constitution.”

Robert A. Levy
Co-counsel for the Plaintiffs
Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies
Cato Institute
(828) 670-1611
[email protected]

“There will be no immediate effect from this decision on state gun control laws. The Second Amendment applies directly only to the federal government. Some portions of the Bill of Rights have been judicially ‘incorporated’ into the 14th Amendment, and thereby made enforceable against state and local governments. The Supreme Court ruling today did not decide that issue. There will likely be a new test case challenging the handgun ban in Chicago and four Chicago suburbs; that case will give courts an opportunity to analyze the Second Amendment incorporation issue.”

David Kopel
Director, Second Amendment Project
A Research Center of the Independence Institute
(303) 279-6536
[email protected]

“Every American has the right to defend his or her self. Our Founders believed that. Now, even anti-gun extremists must accept that truth.”

Kelly Shackelford, Esq.
Chief Counsel
Liberty Legal Institute
(972) 423-3131
[email protected]

“Today, the Court ruled there are no collective rights in the Bill of Rights, only individual rights. Its decision squarely rejects the idea that the Second Amendment somehow manifests a collective right to serve in a State militia. Instead, it embraced the original meaning of the Second Amendment, which plainly guarantees an individual’s right to keep and bear arms.”

Nick Dranias
Center for Constitutional Government
Goldwater Institute
(602) 462-5000 or (612) 229-8814
[email protected]

Nothing in this Media Advisory is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information, contact Dan Miller, executive vice president, The Heartland Institute, at 312/377-4000, or [email protected].