District of Columbia v. Heller: U.S. Supreme Court Upholds 2nd Amendment Right to Bear Arms

On June 26, 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the District of Columbia’s total ban on handguns violates the Second Amendment and its protection of an individual’s right to possess firearms.

D.C. law bans handgun possession by making it illegal to carry an unregistered firearm and prohibits registration of handguns. It also states that no person may carry an unlicensed handgun, but police are allowed to issue 1-year licenses. Residents who lawfully own firearms must keep them unloaded and disassembled, or bound by trigger lock or similar device.

The case was brought by Heller, a local policeman who was denied a license to keep his handgun at home. He hoped to enjoin the city from continuing its bar on handgun registration which prohibits carrying an unlicensed firearm in the home and also from its trigger lock requirement prohibiting the use of functional firearms in the home.

The ink on the opinion was not dry before Second Amendment groups filed suit in the federal court in Chicago challenging the city’s handgun ban. Lawsuit challenges to the local ordinances of other city gun bans are planned or filed for Evanston, Oak Park, Wilmette and others.

Part of the reason the Second Amendment is such a strongly debated issue is that the Amendment itself is very vague, leaving its interpretation up for debate:

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.

Courts have typically ruled that while it is illegal to outright ban an individual to carry arms, restrictions can be placed on the specific types of weapon, such as sawed-off shotguns. Additionally, restrictions have been allowed that prohibit carrying firearms in schools or government buildings. The Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller followed these prior precedents by ruling it unconstitutional to ban handguns in the home and prohibit their use so as to make them useless for purposes of self-defense.

Chicago’s gun laws are similar to those of the District of Columbia. Chicago does not allow the registration of handguns, which essentially outlaws their possession because all firearms must be registered with the local police department. The recent lawsuit filed against the City of Chicago seeks to overturn the total ban on possession of handguns within Chicago.

The relevant Chicago Municipal Codes under debate are:

§8-20-040 Registration of firearms.

(a) All firearms in the City of Chicago shall be registered . . . It shall be the duty of a person owning or possessing a firearm to cause such firearm to be registered. No person shall within the City of Chicago, possess, harbor, have under his control . . . any firearm unless such person is the holder of a valid registration certificate for such firearm. No person shall, within the City of Chicago, possess, harbor, have under his control . . . any firearm which is unregisterable under the provisions of this chapter.

§8-20-050 Unregisterable firearms.

No registration certificate shall be issued for any of the following types of firearms:
(c) Handguns, except:
(1) Those validly registered to a current owner in the City of Chicago prior to the effective date of this chapter, and which contain (i) A safety mechanism to hinder the use of the handgun by unauthorized users . . . ; and (ii) A load indicator device that provides reasonable warning to potential users such that even users unfamiliar with the weapon would be forewarned and would understand the nature of the warning;
(2) Those owned by peace officers who are residents of the City of Chicago,
(3) Those owned by security personnel,
(4) Those owned by private detective agencies licensed under Chapter 111.2601, et seq., Illinois Revised Statutes.

The Municipal Code makes the possession of handguns legal for people who require them for their job, i.e. officers, security personnel, and private detectives. But the average citizen who desires a handgun for self-protection cannot legally possess one. It will be interesting to see whether Chicago’s total handgun ban stands under legal scrutiny, or whether it is ruled unconstitutional like that of District of Columbia.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois personal injury lawsuits for over 30 years, serving those areas in and around Cook County, including Oak Park, Lisle, Hoffman Estates, and Calumet City.

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