Specifically, the Court will decide whether the District’s ban on handguns not registered before 1976, its ban on the carrying of unlicensed handguns, and provisions requiring long guns (rifles & shotguns) to be made inoperable violate the Second Amendment right of “the people” (that’s you and me) to keep and bear our private arms.
Although the briefs filed by the District and by Heller contained statements of what each party wanted the Supreme Court to decide, the Supreme Court rewrote the question presented and it now reads: “Whether the [D.C. Code provisions] 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?”
The language of the question – the reference to “private use in their homes” – suggests that the case will be narrowly decided and limited to possession and carrying of firearms within the home. The Supreme Court frequently chooses to decide issues as narrowly as possible, thus leaving room for future interpretations. Either way the case will be important in that a citywide gun ban will either be upheld or struck down.
And as to what the outcome might be, I will not presume to know how nine of the greatest legal minds in America will answer this question. The Court is closely-divided, with four conservatives, four liberals, and one moderate (Justice Anthony Kennedy) generally as the swing vote. Although the subject of firearms and the Second Amendment is controversial, the narrow concept that people ought to be able to defend themselves in their own homes against criminal attack and that a gun is an effective way to do it is not.
How long do we have to wait? The District of Columbia’s brief is due shortly after the first of the year. The Heller brief is due 30 days after that. There will undoubtedly be numerous amicus (friend of the court) briefs filed by groups on both sides of the issue. Barring any unusual delays, the Court should hear oral argument in March and issue its decision in June.
And the timing of the case is significant for other reasons. With the briefing schedule and argument taking place right in the middle of a hotly contested presidential campaign season, it will be impossible for any candidate to ignore the Second Amendment.
American history is full of cases that have changed the course of that history. Some of those names are known mostly to lawyers. Others are cases that have had such a clear impact that non-lawyers are familiar with them as well, such as Roe v. Wade, Marbury v. Madison, Dred Scott v. Sanford, Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona and Bush v. Gore.
D.C. v. Heller is destined to become such an historic case. And we have a front row seat to watch history in the making.
Sandy Froman is the immediate past president of the National Rifle Association of America, only the second woman and the first Jewish American to hold that office in the 136-year history of the NRA. The views expressed are her own and not that of any organization.
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