DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
ET AL. v. HELLER
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT
No. 07–290. Argued March 18, 2008—Decided June 26, 2008
District of Columbia law bans handgun possession by making it a crime
to carry an unregistered firearm and prohibiting the registration of
handguns; provides separately that no person may carry an unlicensed
handgun, but authorizes the police chief to issue 1-year licenses;
and requires residents to keep lawfully owned firearms
unloaded and dissembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device.
Respondent Heller, a D. C. special policeman, applied to register a
handgun he wished to keep at home, but the District refused. He
filed this suit seeking, on Second Amendment grounds, to enjoin the
city from enforcing the bar on handgun registration, the licensing requirement
insofar as it prohibits carrying an unlicensed firearm in
the home, and the trigger-lock requirement insofar as it prohibits the
use of functional firearms in the home. The District Court dismissed
the suit, but the D. C. Circuit reversed, holding that the Second
Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess firearms and
that the city’s total ban on handguns, as well as its requirement that
firearms in the home be kept nonfunctional even when necessary for
self-defense, violated that right.
1. The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a
firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for
traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.
(a) The Amendment’s prefatory clause announces a purpose, but
does not limit or expand the scope of the second part, the operative
clause. The operative clause’s text and history demonstrate that it
connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms. Pp. 2–22.
(b) The prefatory clause comports with the Court’s interpretation
2 DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
of the operative clause. The “militia” comprised all males physically
capable of acting in concert for the common defense. The Antifederalists
feared that the Federal Government would disarm the people in
order to disable this citizens’ militia, enabling a politicized standing
army or a select militia to rule. The response was to deny Congress
power to abridge the ancient right of individuals to keep and bear
arms, so that the ideal of a citizens’ militia would be preserved.
(c) The Court’s interpretation is confirmed by analogous armsbearing
rights in state constitutions that preceded and immediately
followed the Second Amendment. Pp. 28–30.
(d) The Second Amendment’s drafting history, while of dubious
interpretive worth, reveals three state Second Amendment proposals
that unequivocally referred to an individual right to bear arms.
(e) Interpretation of the Second Amendment by scholars, courts
and legislators, from immediately after its ratification through the
late 19th century also supports the Court’s conclusion. Pp. 32–47.
(f) None of the Court’s precedents forecloses the Court’s interpretation.
Neither United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U. S. 542, 553, nor
v. Illinois, 116 U. S. 252, 264–265, refutes the individualrights
interpretation. United States v. Miller, 307 U. S. 174, does not
limit the right to keep and bear arms to militia purposes, but rather
limits the type of weapon to which the right applies to those used by
the militia, i.e., those in common use for lawful purposes. Pp. 47–54.
2. Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited.
It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any
manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed
weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment
or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not 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. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those
“in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition
of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.
3. The handgun ban and the trigger-lock requirement (as applied to
self-defense) violate the Second Amendment. The District’s total ban
on handgun possession in the home amounts to a prohibition on an
entire class of “arms” that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the
lawful purpose of self-defense. Under any of the standards of scrutiny
the Court has applied to enumerated constitutional rights, this
Cite as: 554 U. S. ____ (2008) 3
prohibition—in the place where the importance of the lawful defense
of self, family, and property is most acute—would fail constitutional
muster. Similarly, the requirement that any lawful firearm in the
home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock makes it impossible
for citizens to use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and
is hence unconstitutional. Because Heller conceded at oral argument
that the D. C. licensing law is permissible if it is not enforced arbitrarily
and capriciously, the Court assumes that a license will satisfy
his prayer for relief and does not address the licensing requirement.
Assuming he is not disqualified from exercising Second Amendment
rights, the District must permit Heller to register his handgun and
must issue him a license to carry it in the home. Pp. 56–64.
478 F. 3d 370, affirmed.