Taking aim at the Second

The Supreme Court will take up a landmark case regarding the right to possess firearms.

The issue of individual rights and firearms has always been highly contentious. The Second Amendment, written in such a confusing way, has offered little in the way of clarity. Does the right to bear arms only pertain to militias? How much power does the government have to limit possession of guns? The Supreme Court will try to shed some light on this debate early next year when it considers a controversial handgun ban in Washington, D.C.

For 31 years, Washington D.C. has banned the ownership of handguns in an attempt to lower its homicide rates. The city does permit individuals to own rifles and shotguns if they are kept at home, disassembled or locked up. But last March an appeals court ruled that the ban was unconstitutional. Now the city is appealing that ruling to the Supreme Court, and city lawyers are hoping to emphasize the role of handguns in Washington’s violent crime rates and the Constitution’s use of the word militia.

Around the country, local governments are watching this case closely as it may have huge impacts on existing and future regulations. The Supreme Court has traditionally stayed away from ruling on the Second Amendment; the last and only case specifically regarding the Second was in 1939.

Don’t be surprised if the Supreme Court avoids directly answering the question of gun rights. This issue has persisted for many years, and the wording of the Second Amendment almost makes it seem as if the Founding Fathers were being intentionally vague (“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”).

Ultimately, local governments should be able to restrict gun ownership. If a community is suffering from massive gun violence, local government must be able to crack down and limit who can own and what types of firearms can be owned. Washington D.C.’s rates of violence have improved over the years, but it’s impossible to know how effective the ban has been. Regardless, Washington D.C.’s gun death rates are about six times the national average, and the safety of its citizens should take precedence.