Constitutionalists everywhere cheered the Supreme Court's decision on Thursday, June 26, affirming that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms. The 5-4 vote in District of Columbia v. Heller struck down Washington's super-strict ban on handguns and ended decades of debate about whether the Framers meant to constitutionally protect the gun rights of all individuals or only those who were members of militias.
No one was happier on Thursday morning than Bob Levy, the senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute. He spent a lot of his own money and five years of careful legal plotting to make sure Heller made it to the high court. I talked to him by telephone from his office in Washington shortly after the decision was announced:
Q: In layman’s terms, what does today’s ruling mean?
A: For residents of Washington, D.C., if they want a handgun, they can go down now and apply to register one and the D.C. government is obligated to give them a registration and a license to carry that gun in their own home and use it if the occasion arises where they need to defend themselves. So that’s good news for the people of Washington, D.C.
Q: In broad constitutional terms, what does this do?
A: It means that a majority of the Supreme Court has declared unequivocally that the Second Amendment secures an individual right, not necessarily one that has to be exercised in the context of militia service. That will mean that nationwide -- once it is determined that the Second Amendment applies to the states, and that question was not at issue in our case because Washington, D.C., is not a state -- oppressive gun laws like the one in Washington will not be permissible under the U.S. Constitution.
Q: How happy are you with the decision?
A: Well, it’s 154 pages and I must say we’ve just gotten a copy. So I haven’t had a chance to look through it. All I know is what Justice Scalia said in court and what Justice Stevens said in the way of summarizing his dissent. From what I could glean, the majority of the court, and of course that’s what matters, has adopted all of the arguments that we put forth in our brief -- arguments by the way that are supported by law scholars across the ideological spectrum, from left to right.