WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court gets to write on a blank slate when it takes up the meaning of the Second Amendment "right to keep and bear arms” and the District of Columbia's ban on handguns.
The nine justices have said almost nothing about gun rights, and their predecessors have likewise given no definitive answer to whether the Constitution protects an individual's right to own guns or whether that right is somehow tied to service in a state militia.
The case that will be argued today is among the most closely watched of the term, drawing 68 briefs from outside groups. Most of those support an individual's right to own a gun.
"This may be one of the only cases in our lifetime when the Supreme Court is going to interpret an important provision of our Constitution unencumbered by precedent,” said Georgetown University law professor Randy Barnett.
What's at stake?
Even if they determine there is an individual right, the justices still will have to decide whether the capital's 32-year-old handgun ban can stand and how to evaluate other gun control laws.
The local Washington government argues that its law should be allowed to remain in force whether or not the amendment applies to individuals, although it reads the amendment as intended to allow states to have armed forces.
The City Council that adopted the ban said it was justified because "handguns have no legitimate use in the purely urban environment of the District of Columbia.”
Dick Anthony Heller, 65, an armed security guard, sued the District after it rejected his application to keep a handgun at his home — about a mile from the court — for protection.