For the first time in history, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued a
definitive ruling on the right of Americans to own guns. A
five-to-four majority of the court ruled that individual citizens have
the right to own firearms, and in the process it struck down a
32-year-old ban on handguns in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.
VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has more on the high court's
landmark ruling from Washington.
Writing for the five-member
court majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said the Second Amendment to the
U.S. Constitution does protect the rights of individuals to own
firearms for personal use.
Legal scholars have long debated
whether the Second Amendment guaranteed the right of individuals to
possess firearms, or if it merely applied to state militias.
Alan Gura says the high court's historic ruling makes it clear that
individuals do have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Gura
represented a Washington, D.C. resident who wanted the city's 32-year-old ban on handguns struck down.
"People do have an individual
right to keep and bear arms, that is very important to remember. That
means that the government cannot ban handguns, it cannot regulate guns
out of existence. We feel today is a fantastic day for liberty once
again," Gura said.
Gura represented security guard Dick Heller.
Heller lives in a high-crime section of Washington and challenged the
city's handgun ban so he could defend himself.
"I am very pleased to
have been able to take this case, with help from my attorneys, all the
way to the highest court in the land. And I am very happy that now I
am able to defend myself and my household in my own home," Heller said.
those welcoming the high court's decision was President Bush. The
White House issued a statement saying the president strongly agrees
with the court's majority opinion.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain also praised the decision as a landmark victory for freedom in the United States.
candidate Barack Obama issued a statement that said the court decision
will provide guidance to local communities trying to balance the rights
of gun owners with the need to protect citizens in high crime areas of
The four Supreme Court justices in the minority who
wanted to uphold the handgun ban argued that striking down the
Washington, D.C. law would open up other gun control statutes to
Gun control advocates were disappointed but not surprised by the Supreme Court ruling.
are obviously disappointed and disagree with the majority opinion.
This takes off the idea that you can have a near total ban on guns,
especially guns for self-defense,' said Paul Helmke, president of the
Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence.
But Helmke noted that in
his majority opinion, Justice Scalia said that although the court
recognizes an individual right to bear arms, that right is not
"It is clear that what the court did today was that they
limited the extremes. They said that you can no longer have near total
prohibitions on guns, but they also said you can have reasonable
restrictions on guns," he said.
In his opinion, Scalia said the
ruling should not be used to cast doubt on existing gun control laws
that keep guns out of the hands of convicted criminals and the mentally
ill, and prevent weapons from being carried into schools and government
Gura says Thursday's Supreme Court decision will have
far-reaching legal ramifications for government attempts to enact new
gun control measures.
"We are not going to see the end of instant
background checks. We are not going to see the end of the ban on
felons or lunatics having guns. But, when the government regulates
guns, it has to remember that it is potentially stepping on an
important individual right and it is going to be made to respect that
right," he said
The high court last took up the issue of the
Second Amendment and gun ownership in 1939, but legal scholars say the
court at that time did not directly settle the question of whether
individual citizens have a right to bear arms.