District of Columbia v. Heller - Case Summary

University / Undergraduate
Modified: 22nd Feb 2024
Wordcount: 500 words


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Legal Case Summary

Summary: Landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court that determined the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects an individual's right to possess a firearm.


Respondent Heller, a D.C. special policeman, applied to register a handgun he wished to keep at home, but was rejected because D.C. law generally ban the new registration of handguns and makes it a crime to carry an unregistered firearm. Federal law allowed D.C. to adopt such local regulations for firearms. Heller filed a lawsuit claiming his Second Amendment rights had been violated.


The main issue at hand was whether the Second Amendment, which states 'the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed', is an individual right protecting against both federal and state governments, or just a right of the states to maintain formal, organised militia units.


The decision fundamentally alters the landscape of Second Amendment litigation and interpretation. It established the precedence that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess firearms and that government would have a much higher burden in attempting to justify new regulations and bans.


The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, sided with Heller. The majority opinion, delivered by Justice Scalia, stated that the Second Amendment did protect an individual right to possess firearms irrespective of service in a militia for self-defense purposes. However, they made clear that the right is not unlimited and does not prohibit all regulation of either firearms or similar devices.


  • Oyez. (n.d.). District of Columbia v. Heller. Retrieved from https://www.oyez.org/cases/2007/07-290
  • Scalia, A. (2008). Supreme Court of the United States: Opinion of the Court. Retrieved from https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/07pdf/07-290.pdf

Journalist Brief

In a historic ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment defends an individual's right to firearms. The case arose when D.C. special policeman Heller was unable to register his handgun due to D.C. laws. Heller took the case to court, claiming violation of Second Amendment rights. The Supreme Court voted 5-4 in favour of Heller, recognising personal rights to firearms for self-defence. However, they clarified that this right does not extend to all firearms or overrule the possibility of regulation.


What was the main issue in the District of Columbia v. Heller case?

Answer: The main issue was whether the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protected an individual's right to possess firearms.

What was the Supreme Court’s decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller case?

Answer: The court ruled in favor of Heller, stating that the Second Amendment did protect an individual's right to possess firearms for self-defense purposes.

What does the outcome of the District of Columbia v. Heller case mean?

Answer: It means that the Second Amendment is understood to protect an individual's right to own guns, however it does not prohibit all regulation of firearms.

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