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District of Columbia vs. Heller 128 S.Ct. 2783

Review of Appellate History and Court Dispositions

The United States Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller was an appeal arising from the case Parker v. District of Columbia, whereby the Circuit Court of Appeals for District of Columbia held appellate jurisdiction. However, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia possessed original jurisdiction in the Parker case, and for that reason, it is also where the case originated. In a district court case, the court’s disposition held that Shelly Parker’s (the respondent) Complaint should be dismissed and the District’s (the petitioners) Motion to Dismiss should be granted. The respondent then appealed, whereby certiorari was granted by the circuit court of appeals and a disposition in favour of the respondent was returned. The court further held that the respondent of record (Shelly Parker) had no standing and that the only respondent who had standing was Dick Anthony Heller. Petitioners then brought their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, whereby Heller was the respondent of record.

Statement of Facts

Since 1976 the petitioners have denied citizens within the jurisdiction of the district the right to lawfully possess functioning firearms within their homes. The petitioners have also placed a permanent prohibition for possessing a handgun not registered prior to 1976 within the district. However, long guns (i.e. shotguns and rifles) that are lawfully registered within the city might be possessed, so long as they remain either disassembled or bound by a trigger lock. Even with these weapons bound or disassembled, the resident may not lawfully move the weapon about within the home, nor lawfully reassemble the weapon and use it in the course of defending one’s own self nor his/her own family.

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At the time the litigation began, the respondent, Dick Anthony Heller, was employed by the petitioners as a special police officer at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judicial Center. In the course of his employment, the respondent was entrusted by the petitioners to carry a loaded handgun for the protection of the judicial building and its employees. However, when the respondent left the building to go home every day the petitioners required the respondent to be disarmed. Even when the respondent applied to register a handgun in accordance with the district’s application procedures, he was denied the registration, pursuant to the petitioner’s total prohibition on private handgun possession.

The respondent was also informed by the petitioners that if he attempted to possess a handgun or functional firearms within his home, he would be prosecuted. The respondent owned numerous weapons, including handguns outside of the district. His only prayer for relief was “to enjoin the city from the enforcing of the ‘functional firearms within the home’ bar on the registration of handguns, and the licensing requirement insofar as it prohibits the carrying of a firearm in the home without a license and the trigger-lock requirement insofar as it prohibits the use [for defensive purposes].” Therefore, he joined in the litigation proceedings and successfully challenged the petitioner’s criminalization of functional weapon and handgun possession within the district.

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Questions of Law Presented

1. Does the Second Amendment protect an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defence within the home?

2. Do the petitioner’s weapon ban statutes, denying the private ownership and possession of handguns and functional firearms within the home, violate the respondent’s guaranteed individual rights pursuant to the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America?

Factual and Legal Analysis of Case

The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution holds, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” There have been many interpretations as to how the Amendment might be applied to the citizens of the republic. Those interpretations can be separated into the following three camps: (1) the application of the Amendment should be interpreted only to uphold the right of various state governments to arm their militias; (2) the Amendment protects the individual right to possess arms for private use; and (3) also known as “the sophisticated collective right model” which permits individuals to raise Second Amendment claims against the federal government, with the exception that the Amendment might only be interpreted as purely civic protection, offering no protection for private ownership.

Conversely, most federal circuits have adopted the third camp to be the most palatable, with only the Fifth Circuit interpreting the Amendment to protect individual rights. The decision as to which camp one should side with formidably determines the two cruxes of the case, as located in the questions presented; however, the interpretation of the Amendment lies as the foundational structure to that interpretation.

In Heller, Justice Scalia delivered the majority opinion of the court. He recognized that the Amendment should be interpreted by separating it into the following sections: the prefatory clause and the operative clause. The operative clause, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”, was interpreted by the petitioner to signify that the right of the people to keep and bear arms should be contemplated in a military sense. Argumentatively, it was the respondent’s view that the clause should be interpreted in an individual sense, implying private use and ownership.
Next, the prefatory clause, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free State”, was interpreted by the petitioners in a very narrow sense. The petitioners assumed the framers intent was that a “well-regulated militia” should be interpreted in its literal sense as the “state- and congressionally-regulated military forces described in the Militia Clauses (art. I, § 8, cls. 15-16).” In contrast, the Court agreed arguendo with the petitioner’s interpretation that the “militia” in the Second Amendment was the same as in Article I; however, the Court did not concede that it was the same type of organized militia the framers were referring to in Article I, regarding the navies and armies of the colonies. That was because the militia to which the framers were referring was already in existence, i.e. the able-bodied men of the colonies; the citizens of the United States.

Justice Scalia went on to provide a Pre-Civil War analysis which described how the 1846 disposition of the court in Nunn v. State (a Georgia Supreme Court case that struck down a ban that denied an individual’s right to openly carry a pistol) perfectly captured the way in which the operative clause of the Second Amendment might further the purpose announced in the prefatory clause:

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The right of the whole people, old and young, men, women and boys, and not militia only, to keep and bear arms of every description, and not such merely as are used by the militia, shall not be infringed, curtailed, or broken in upon, in the smallest degree; and all this for the important end to be attained: the rearing up and qualifying a well-regulated militia, so vitally necessary to the security of a free State. Our opinion is, that any law, State or Federal, is repugnant to the Constitution, and void, which contravenes this right, originally belonging to our forefathers, trampled under foot by Charles I. and his two wicked sons and successors, re-established by the revolution of 1688, conveyed to this land of liberty by the colonists, and finally incorporated conspicuously in our own Magna Charta!

Therefore, pursuant to the aforementioned facts, the Second Amendment does provide a standard of protection for an individual’s right to possess a firearm, unconnected with service in a militia.

Finally, Justice Scalia addressed the issue of the Constitutionality of the petitioner’s ban on handguns and functioning weapons within the home. Justice Scalia maintained that a certain standard of scrutiny must be maintained, however that standard did not extend insofar as to allow for the tolerance of an entity banning “the most preferred firearm in the nation to ‘keep’ and use for protection of one’s home and family.” He further maintained that such a ban would fail Constitutional muster; therefore setting forth a legal precedent affirming the ban unconstitutional supporting the respondent’s injury, to which a remedy was permitted.

Subsequently, Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts, and Kennedy voted in concurrence with the respondent’s interpretation of the Amendment’s individual right guarantee, while Justices Souter, Ginsburg, Stevens and Breyer dissented, bringing the final vote to be a 5-4 decision. That decision affirmed the United States Circuit Court for the District of Columbia’s ruling, which stipulated that the ban to be in violation of the respondent’s guaranteed individual rights, pursuant to the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

Implications for Society’s Social Policy In Public Safety

The disposition rendered in Heller held a plethora of credence, insofar as its ramifications upon society and social policy was concerned. As with any decision of grave importance, an examination of the probative and prejudicial standards should be reviewed so that an opinion might be rendered in good conscience and with all of the available facts present. The probative and prejudicial review provides jurists with the scope of strict scrutiny, required in rendering a just and proper opinion.
At first glance, a probative review of Heller shows that there are many acceptable changes to social policy within the District of Columbia. Moreover, the Heller interpretation also sets forth Constitutional support for the preservation of self-defence by means of a firearm within the home.

Justice Scalia described handguns to be the most preferred firearm for home protection and deemed D.C.’s ban to fail against Constitutional muster; thereby setting a quarter-century of statutory within the district to stand mute. Additionally, the case’s decision sets forth a new scope by which weapons possession must be viewed.

However, when one conducts a prejudicial review of the Heller decision, one finds the decision upholds the longstanding social policy of prohibiting convicted felons and the mentally ill from owning or possessing firearms.

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Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

However, even though the court turned to stare decisis to remedy any confusion regarding their disposition, it is noteworthy to consider whether the prior rulings prohibiting felon armament are consistent with the original intent of the Second Amendment. Social policy in the Justice system of corrections has demonstrated an abundantly clear determination of the government possessing a zero-tolerance for criminal conduct and severe sentences for any infraction. On the other hand, once an individual meets his/her sentencing requirements, should that American citizen be denied the right to defend him or herself with a weapon because of non-violent white-collar convection? That is a prejudicial review that must be taken into serious consideration.


Finally, the factual analysis of District of Columbia v. Heller has provided a clear and concise view into the Supreme Court’s majority ideals, surrounding the scope of individual Second Amendment rights. The analysis further shows how enormous the disposition in Heller is for all Americans.

Pursuant to the majority’s opinion, the right to keep and bear arms was not just civil liberty, but rather an individual right established prior to the Constitution ever being written. It was an ideal founded on the principle that the preservation of self-defence far outweighed any code denying an individual’s right to own a functional weapon for the service of that purpose.


See Parker v. District of Columbia, 478 F.3d 370, 375 U.S.App.D.C. 140 (2007); see also District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S.Ct. 2783 (2008).

See Parker v. District of Columbia, 311 F.Supp.2d 103 (2004).

See D.C. Code §§ 7-2502.01(a), 7-2502.02(a).

D.C. Code § 7-2507.02.

Heller, at 2788.

U.S. Const. amend. II.

Parker, at 379. for Collective Right Model see also the United States v. Parker, 362 F.3d 1279, 1284 (10th Cir.2004); the United States v. Price, 328 F.3d 958, 961 (7th Cir.2003); the United States v. Emerson, 270 F.3d 203, 219 (5th Cir.2001); Seegars v. Ashcroft, 297 F.Supp.2d 201, 218 (D.D.C.2004); see also Robert J. Cottrol & Raymond T. Diamond, The Fifth Auxiliary Right, 104 YALE L.J. 995, 1003-04 (1995).

Heller, at 2799.

See U.S. Const. Art. I, § 8, cls. 12-13.

See Nunn v. State, 1 Ga. 243, 251 (1846); see also Heller, at 2809.

Parker, at 400.

Heller, at 2816.

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District of Columbia vs. Heller 128 S.Ct. 2783. (2021, Mar 10). Retrieved January 28, 2023, from