A United States federal appeals court on Friday overturned the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns. In doing so the court rejected the city’s argument that the 2nd Amendment only protects the right of a militia to bear arms.
The court voted 2-1, saying that the rights guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment “are not limited to militia service, nor is an individual’s enjoyment of the right contingent upon his or her continued intermittent enrollment in the militia.”
The ban on handguns in the District of Columbia had been in effect since 1976. In 1975, the year before the ban went into effect, Washington, D.C. had a population of 716,000 people, and 235 murders were committed that year, for an average of 33.3 murders for every 100,000 people. In 2005, thirty years after the ban went into effect, the average was slightly higher, with 35.4 murders for every 100,000 people.
Friday’s case was not the first time the District of Columbia has had its handgun ban challenged. In 2004, six residents of Washington, D.C. were told by a lower-court judge that they had no constitutional right to own handguns. Among those suing for the right were residents of high-crime neighborhoods who wanted to be able to protect themselves.
The current case was filed by Dick Heller, who – as a police officer – was allowed to carry a gun while on duty, and wanted to keep a gun at home as well. When his application was denied, Heller challenged the district’s law that “barred the registration of handguns, that prohibited carrying handguns without a license even from one room of a private home to another, and that required lawfully owned firearms to be kept unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.”
In Friday’s ruling, Judge Laurence Silberman, who wrote the majority opinion, said that “the district’s definition of the militia is just too narrow. There are too many instances of ‘bear arms’ indicating private use to conclude that the drafters intended only a military sense.”
In spite, of the seemingly negligible effects of the ban, the mayor of Washington, D.C., Adrian Fenty, lashed out at the court. He claims the verdict “flies in the face of laws that have helped decrease gun violence,” and says the city will appeal the ruling.
Also commenting on the case was an official from the National Rifle Association, who says the decision gives the District “a crack in the door to join the rest of the country in full constitutional freedom.”