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Activists in US Prepare for Major Legal Battle over Guns


Activists on both sides of America's contentious debate over gun control are gearing up for what could be a major showdown. Their focus is on the nation's highest court, which has been asked to decide whether Washington D.C.'s ban on handguns is constitutional. If the Supreme Court takes the case, that will set the stage for a high-stakes legal fight over the meaning of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. Malcolm Brown reports from Washington.

Community activist Sandra Seegars inspects another street memorial to a shooting victim in her southeast Washington neighborhood. It is a crime hotspot in a city with one of the highest murder rates in the United States. Seegars wants a gun for personal protection. "I say to the people who don't want one personally, I tell them, 'Then that's your choice, but everybody should have the right to say 'yes' or 'no' and not have them saying 'no' for you'."

Seegars went to court herself in a failed attempt to overturn Washington D.C.'s strict handgun law.

Now, the nation's highest court must decide whether it will take up the issue, after a lower court overturned the ban and the city appealed.

Tony Mauro, Supreme Court correspondent for the Legal Times, says the court has avoided the underlying issue for nearly 70 years. "This is really the longest-standing unanswered question in American law -- the meaning of the Second Amendment --and I think the court probably will finally decide that now is the time to answer it."

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution talks about the need for "a well regulated militia," as well as "the right of the people to keep and bear arms."

Opponents of the handgun ban here in Washington D.C., emphasize the individual's right. Gun control advocates stress the militia aspect.

Washington's police department supports the argument of city officials -- that if the ban is lifted the result will be more gun violence.

In the bowels of police headquarters, a special unit processes seized firearms -- almost half of them handguns.

Even with the ban, the director of the Firearms Examination Section, Karen Wiggins, says her inbox is full. "On a typical day, we can get 15 to 20 firearms in a day. Last year we recovered over 2,600 firearms -- 2,656 to be exact. Previously, in 2005, we recovered about 2,400 firearms. Considering the fact that the District of Columbia, I believe, has one of the most stringent gun laws in the land, I believe that shows that we clearly have a large volume of firearms coming into the District of Columbia."

The Supreme Court has just begun a new term, and has not yet indicated whether it will take the case. If it does, the decision would be historic.

Over at the Legal Times, Tony Mauro guesses that the ban would get struck down. "We now have a sharply more conservative Supreme Court. So, I think, again, if I had to predict, I think it might be a narrow decision, or a narrow margin, but I think the view that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms will prevail."

If the court does go that way, Mauro predicts decades of legal wrangling to define the limits of that right.

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