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Laws that forbid the carrying of arms - Thomas Jefferson
Laws that forbid the carrying of arms - Thomas Jefferson

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In 2008, the Supreme Court handed down the much-anticipated ruling for District of Columbia v. Heller, the first case regarding the Second Amendment to make it this high since 1939. It was a ruling long overdue. The groundwork began in 2002, when Cato Institute Senior Fellow Robert Levy began collaborating with Institute for Justice lawyer Clark Neily, discussing the possibility of a lawsuit against D.C. They needed plaintiffs and found many who were willing, but in the end only Dick Heller’s case was accepted. District law Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975 forbid anyone in the city from owning a handgun, and required all rifles be stored unloaded and disassembled. By day Dick Heller worked a security guard, armed and licensed to protect his company, but by night he could not do the same for his family. And this in a city with the highest homicide rate in the country.

The struggle to the Supreme Court was long and arduous, but Levy and Neily persevered. It was worth it. In a 5-4 decision, the Court agreed the D.C. law was an unconstitutional violation of the Second Amendment. The right of the people to keep and bear arms was affirmed, whether those ‘people’ belonged to a formal military organization or not. Individuals, after all, had just as much need for self-protection as any militia. The ban on handguns was struck down, as was the requirement for rifle disassembly, since, Scalia wrote, “It makes it impossible for citizens to use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense.” Since the ruling, lawsuits have sprung up around the country, suing state and local governments to strike down their gun bans. The way is long, for the other side is fighting back, but an important first step has been taken.