554 U.S. 570 (2008).

A seminal opinion of the United States Supreme Court on the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The case involved a District of Columbia special police officer’s challenge to the constitutionality of a District law completely banning the possession of a handgun in the home and requiring that any other lawfully owned firearm in the home, such as a registered long gun, be disassembled or otherwise rendered inoperable for immediate use.

The Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right, not a collective one: “There seems to us no doubt, on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms.”  But the Court further held that, “[l]ike most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” The Court cautioned that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”  The Court further explained: “We identify these presumptively lawful regulatory measures only as examples; our list does not purport to be exhaustive.”

Key to Heller’s analysis of the District’s regulations was the observation that “the law totally bans handgun possession in the home. It also requires that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock at all times, rendering it inoperable.” In finding the total ban on handguns unconstitutional, the Court explained:

[T]he inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right. The handgun ban amounts to a prohibition of an entire class of “arms” that is overwhelmingly chosen by American society for that lawful purpose. The prohibition extends, moreover, to the home, where the need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute. Under any of the standards of scrutiny that we have applied to enumerated constitutional rights, banning from the home “the most preferred firearm in the nation to ‘keep’ and use for protection of one’s home and family,” would fail constitutional muster.

Addressing the requirement that firearms in the home be rendered and kept inoperable at all times, the Court similarly explained that the requirement was unconstitutional because “[t]his makes it impossible for citizens to use them for the core lawful purpose of self-defense[.]”

Because the District’s law was unconstitutional under any level of constitutional scrutiny, Heller declined to indicate precisely what standard of review would apply to Second Amendment challenges.

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