District of Columbia v. Heller

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  • Violence Against Women and Girls
  • Joined Amicus Brief
2008

Determined whether the District of Columbia's gun control laws banning private possession of handguns violate the Second Amendment.

Summary of the Case

The Supreme Court considered whether certain provisions in the District of Columbia's gun laws which essentially seek to ban private possession of handguns by prohibiting registration of pistols, carrying of pistols, and requiring pistols be kept disassembled and trigger-locked, violated the Second Amendment rights of individuals who are not affiliated with any state-regulated militia, but who wish to keep handguns and other firearms for private use in their homes. 

Our Role in the Case

Given that statistics show that domestic violence perpetrators use guns with alarming frequency in their attacks, and the presence of or access to a gun greatly increases the likelihood of fatality in a domestic violence situation, Legal Momentum joined an amicus curiae brief submitted by the National Network to End Domestic Violence urging the Court to hold that the laws are constitutional.  

The brief argued that:

  1. Domestic violence is a serious crime with tragic consequences for millions of women and children nationwide;
  2. Firearms threaten to exacerbate an already deadly crisis; and
  3. There are compelling reasons for restricting the use and availability of firearms under circumstances like those of domestic violence.  

The brief argued that there are many methods for attempting to reduce the use of firearms in instances of domestic violence, that the laws at issue represented the D.C. council's judgment as to how to accomplish that goal, and that the Court should defer to that judgment.

Decision

In a 5-4 decision, the Court struck down the laws, definitively finding that that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense in the home.  Significantly, the Court distinguished its previous Second Amendment decisions as having dealt with the right to bear arms for militia purposes.  The Court did place limits on Second Amendment rights, noting for instance that 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 or government buildings, would be permitted.