The United States Supreme Court heard arguments recently in a case involving a challenge to Washington, DC’s ban on the possession of handguns. The law had been challenged by a resident of Washington, DC on the ground that the law runs contrary to the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Second Amendment provides, in its entirety, “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.”
At issue here is whether the Amendment protects an individual person’s right to possess a firearm (i.e., the “Individual Rights” theory), or whether the right to “keep and bear arms” is only tied to service in a state militia, such as, for instance, the National Guard (i.e., the “Collective Rights” theory). The United States Supreme Court has never squarely answered this question.
Even if the Court adopts the “Individual Rights” theory, the Court must still decide to what extent the right to own a gun can be limited consistent with the Second Amendment. As with other Constitutional Rights, there are very few rights that are absolute. For instance, one’s right to freedom of speech could not be said to protect the right to threaten to kill one’s spouse.
A decision is expected in the case sometime before June, when the Court recesses for the Summer.