First Principles: The relevance of District of Columbia v. Heller

First Principles: The relevance of District of Columbia v. Heller

Gelfuso June 26 marks 13 years since the Supreme Court delivered its landmark decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, ruling that the Second Amendment to the Constitution protects an individual right to bear arms and that the District of Columbia’s absolute ban on the possession of handguns was therefore unconstitutional. Now more than a decade later, Heller will have a large influence in mounting a challenge to New York’s handgun law in the Supreme Court. At issue in Heller was whether the Second Amendment guarantees citizens an individual right to own a firearm or rather that this right could only be exercised in regard to service in a militia. Relying on extensive historical sources and other areas in the text of the Constitution, the court sided with the individual rights argument. The court’s opinion cited the Second Amendment’s operative clause, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The court noted that the phrase, “the right of the people,” appears three other times in the First, Fourth, and Ninth Amendments to the Constitution. As Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the court’s opinion, “All three of these instances unambiguously refer to individual rights, not ‘collective’ rights, or rights that may be exercised only through participation in some corporate body.” Section 400.00 of the New York Penal Code requires that applicants seeking a permit to carry a concealed handgun in public must have a “proper cause” for wishing to do so, and the determination […]

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