D.C. v. Heller

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District of Columbia v. Heller
554 U.S. 570
Decided: 2008

District of Columbia v. Heller was the most significant gun control case in the United States in about 70 years.[1] Oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court took place on March 18, 2008. Chief Justice John Roberts took the unusual step of authorizing an early release of the audio recording of argument to the public.[2]

In March 2007, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit invalidated a 31-year-old gun control statute in the District of Columbia based on an interpretation that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own firearms, by declaring that "the right in question is individual" and not, as gun control proponents claim, a collective right limited to membership in a state militia.[3] The D.C. statute had completely prohibited residents of the District of Columbia from possessing firearms in a manner compatible with self defense. The Court, in striking it down, relied on a Department of Justice memo that observed, "The Second Amendment secures a right of individuals generally, not a right of States or a right restricted to persons serving in militias."[4]

That appellate struck down the 31-year-old statute in D.C. as unconstitutional. Parker v. District of Columbia, 478 F.3d 370 (D.C. Cir. 2007). The Court cited how the D.C. gun control prohibited ownership of handguns for self-defense even within one's home, and the panel of judges relied on a Department of Justice memo that observed, "The Second Amendment secures a right of individuals generally, not a right of States or a right restricted to persons serving in militias." [4]

In 2007 the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari[5] to reconsider the appellate decision. The Court indicated that it would address the following issue ("Question Presented"):

Whether the following provisions—D.C. Code §§ 7-2502.02(a)(4), 22-4504(a), and 7-2507.02—violate 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.


Multiple plaintiffs had originally sued the city, but the Court of Appeals dismissed all of them except Dick Anthony Heller, who was the only one who had actually (unsuccessfully) tried to get a permit to own a handgun. Hellard, a security guard, had received a special permit to wear a gun at work; however, he was not allowed to keep one at home.

Surprisingly to many (including the NRA, who had shied away from the case as a potential setback[6]), the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Hellard. The District of Columbia promptly appealed to the Supreme Court.

Amicus Curiae Briefs

Far more conservative than liberal amicus curiae briefs were filed in this action.[7] One of the conservative briefs, drafted by Ted Cruz,[8] is devoted entirely to point out errors in submissions by the pro-gun control side.[9][10]

The following groups, none of which are known to be conservative, did file amicus curiae briefs in favor of gun control in this case:[11]

  • Brief amicus curiae of Members of Congress filed.[12]
  • Brief amici curiae of Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, et al. filed.
  • Brief amicus curiae of NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. filed.
  • Brief amici curiae of Professors of Linguistics and English Dennis E. Baron, Richard W. Bailey, and Jeffrey P. Kaplan filed.
  • Brief amici curiae of American Academy of Pediatrics, et al. filed.
  • Brief amici curiae of Violence Policy Center, et al. filed.
  • Brief amici curiae of Major American Cities, et al. filed.
  • Brief amici curiae of Law Professors Erwin Chemerinsky and Adam Winkler filed.
  • Brief amici curiae of DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, et al. filed.
  • Brief amici curiae of American Jewish Committee, et al. filed.
  • Brief amici curiae of Former Department of Justice Officials filed.
  • Brief amicus curiae of American Bar Association filed.
  • Brief amici curiae of New York, et al. filed.[13]
  • Brief amicus curiae of Professors of Criminal Justice filed.
  • Brief amici curiae of National Network to End Domestic Violence, et al. filed.
  • Brief amici curiae of American Public Health Association, et al. filed.
  • Brief amicus curiae of United States filed.
  • Brief amici curiae of District Attorneys filed.
  • Brief amici curiae of Jack N. Rakove, et al. filed.

The Second Amendment Sisters joined this brief in support of a right to bear arms.[14]


Two liberal medical/health organizations filed amici briefs arguing that medicine or health supports gun control. The American Public Health Association led one such brief, in which it argued that:[15]

Firearms have a profound effect on the public's health in the United States. In 2004 (the latest year for which complete data are available), there were 29,569 firearm-related deaths in the United States, including homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths. Ctrs. for Disease Control & Prevention, Web-Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Injury Mortality Reports, 1999-2004 (July 2007), http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_sy.html. In addition, there were more than 70,000 non-fatal shootings serious enough to require a hospital visit in the U.S. in 2006. There were also an estimated 477,040 victims of non-fatal violent crimes committed with a firearm in 2005. Ctrs. for Disease Control & Prevention, Web-Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Nonfatal Injury Reports (Sept. 2007), http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/nfirates2001.html; Bureau of Justice Statistics, Firearms and Crime Statistics (Mar. 2007), http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/guns.htm. The total societal cost of this firearm related violence has been estimated at $100 billion per year. Philip J. Cook & Jens Ludwig, Gun Violence: The Real Costs 117 (Oxford Univ. Press 2000).
Scientific evidence is the starting point for the public health approach to problems like gun violence. “The scientific core of public health is epidemiology, which identifies the risk factors, trends, and causes of health problems.” David Hemenway, Private Guns, Public Health 9 (2004). Because gun violence is a major public health problem that needs to be addressed through a variety of actions, including legislation and regulation, amici respectfully submit the following information to aid the Court’s analysis of this controversial issue. ...
The studies detailed below show that the risk of suicide, homicide, and accidental gun death is greater in homes with guns, and in communities with a higher prevalence of guns. Numerous studies indicate that people who have guns in their homes are at a substantially increased risk of suicide. Similarly, the presence of a gun at home increases the risk of homicide for the occupants of that home. And handguns, in particular, are responsible for the majority of all firearm homicides and suicides. Ultimately, the evidence below shows that a substantial number of murders, suicides, and unintentional firearm deaths may be prevented by the statutes challenged in this case.

The brief by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is more strident: "Consistent with the responsibilities of municipal government confronted with a public health crisis among its most vulnerable, the District of Columbia enacted narrow legislation to staunch the contagion."[16] The AAP devotes one of its argument headings to its claim that "children cannot be taught gun safety."[16]


On June 26, the Court ruled in favor of Heller, finding that the District of Columbia's gun laws violated the Second Amendment, which protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the 5-4 majority opinion. The dissenters agreed that the Second Amendment protects an individual right, but argued that D.C. could ban handguns anyway.


The decision does not immediately have implications outside the District of Columbia, because the Bill of Rights directly applies only to the Federal government.[17] However, the Supreme Court decided June 28, 2010 McDonald v. Chicago, which argues that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms should be incorporated against the states under the Fourteenth Amendment.

See also


  1. NY Times article.
  2. http://www.newsday.com/news/politics/wire/sns-ap-scotus-audio,0,7739435.story
  3. Parker v. District of Columbia, 478 F.3d 370 (D.C. Cir. 2007).
  4. 4.0 4.1 DOJ Memo.
  5. Docket No. 07-290.
  6. http://reason.com/archives/2008/11/18/how-the-second-amendment-was-r
  7. http://www.scotusblog.com/wp/?s=Heller
  8. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88251874
  9. http://www.gurapossessky.com/news/parker/documents/07-290bsacCitizensCommittee.pdf
  10. https://www.tedcruz.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/Heller_Amicus_Brief.pdf
  11. http://dcguncase.com/blog/case-filings/
  12. The members of Congress who joined this brief include some of its most liberal Representatives. The entire list of those who joined this brief is as follows: Representative Robert A. Brady (PA-01), Representative John Conyers, Jr. (MI-14), Representative Danny K. Davis (IL-07), Representative Keith Ellison (MN-05), Representative Sam Farr (CA-17), Representative Chaka Fattah (PA-02), Representative Al Green (TX-09), Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-07), Representative Michael Honda (CA-15), Representative Zoe Lofgren (CA-16), Representative Carolyn McCarthy (NY-04), Representative Gwen Moore (WI-04), Representative James P. Moran (VA-08), Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Representative Bobby L. Rush (IL-01), Representative Maxine Waters (CA-35), Representative Lynn C. Woolsey (CA-06) and Representative Albert R. Wynn (MD-04). [1]
  13. This brief was submitted by the very liberal and pro-gun control states of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. In this brief, signed by Andrew Cuomo of New York, gun control supporters argue that since the purpose of the Second Amendment is to protect state militias, the Second Amendment must not be construed to limit the power of states to regulate the private ownership of firearms. [2]
  14. http://www.2asisters.org/07-290_amicus_second_amendment_sisters-southeastern_legal_foundation.pdf
  15. http://www.gurapossessky.com/news/parker/documents/07-290acAmericanPublicHealthAssociation.pdf
  16. 16.0 16.1 http://www.gurapossessky.com/news/parker/documents/07-290tsaAmerican%20Academy.pdf
  17. Barron v. Baltimore, Chief Justice John Marshall