District of Columbia v. Heller
The extent of the Second Amendment right to bear arms was defined in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2008 decision District of Columbia v. Heller.
The District long had a restrictive gun law that forbade handguns and required rifles and shotguns to be stored separately from ammunition in locked cabinets. The Firearms Control Act of 1975 was determined to be unconstitutional and the keeping of handguns permitted for self-defense purposes under the Second Amendment, the Court decided.
The Heller case was contrived in 2002 by a scholar who gathered a diverse group of District residents affected by the gun laws. Heller, one of the plaintiffs, was a special police officer who carried a gun for work but was not able to have one in his home. In 2003 a suit challenging the District’s handgun ban was filed in district court but quickly dismissed.
The Firearms Control Act of 1975 allowed only guns that were registered before 1975 or those owned by active or retired law enforcement officers. The plaintiffs’ case argued that they should be allowed to own guns and keep them as they saw fit for personal safety under the Second Amendment.
The U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit found that of the plaintiffs assembled only Heller had standing to pursue the case because he had applied for a handgun permit and been rejected. The court struck down the 1975 ban on the grounds that the right to bear arms predated the Constitution.
When the case came before the Supreme Court, it was the first time in recent history that the Second Amendment had been scrutinized. Previously cited cases included United States v. Miller (1939) which allowed for ordinary citizens owning guns but specifically barred short-barreled shotguns from personal use (but portions of the case were never completed due to the death of the defendant after it was remanded to district court) and U.S. v. Printz (1997) that struck down portions of the Brady Bill’s restrictions on gun possession as being in violation of the Tenth Amendment because it compelled state officers (sheriffs) to enact federal law (background checks).