The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down Washington D.C.'s ban on handguns, saying individuals have the right to own guns.

In a 5-to-4 landmark decision Thursday, the high court struck down the 32-year-old ban, saying it violates the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The court also struck down the city's requirement that legally-owned firearms be equipped with trigger locks or kept disassembled in the home, saying that makes it impossible for citizens to use arms for the lawful purpose of self-defense.

The court noted that long-standing gun restrictions remain in place - such as prohibitions on felons and the mentally ill from possessing guns and restrictions on carrying firearms in schools and government buildings.

The second amendment says that because "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."  The court ruled today that this does not limit gun ownership to service in a militia.

The decision could have a wide impact on restrictions on gun ownership in the United States.

The White House says U.S. President George Bush strongly agrees with the decision and is pleased that the court concluded that Washington D.C.'s firearm laws violate the individual right of Americans to keep and bear arms.

Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty said he wished the court had ruled  to uphold the ban, but added that the city will respect the decision.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain hailed the court's decision, saying it recognizes that gun ownership is a fundamental right that is "sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly."

Washington city officials have said the ban has led to a decrease in violent crime, while opponents of the ban said the case was about a citizen's right to self-defense.

The court has not ruled on the "right to keep and bear arms" since 1939.

In rulings announced Wednesday The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in child rape cases, saying executions should be reserved for acts of murder.

In a major capital punishment decision, the court said executing people convicted of raping a child violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Writing for the court (5-4) majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said "the death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child."  He said there is a national consensus against the death penalty for the crime of child rape.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said he disagrees with the court's decision.  He called the rape of a young child a "heinous" crime, and said the death penalty is applicable if a state decides to allow it.  

The case involved Patrick Kennedy, a 43-year-old man in the southern state of Louisiana who was sentenced to death for raping his eight-year-old stepdaughter in 1998.

Also Wednesday, the Supreme Court reduced punitive damages involving the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of the far northwestern state of Alaska.  It ruled the punitive damage award of $2.5 billion against Exxon Mobile should be a little more than $500 million.

The tanker ship Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound, spilling more than 40 million liters of oil and polluting hundreds of kilometers of coastline.  The spill also killed thousands of birds, fish and other marine life.

Plaintiffs who sought punitive damages include commercial fishermen, seafood processors, landowners and native Alaskans.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.