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Indiana has voice in Second Amendment case

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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For the first time in 70 years, the U.S. Supreme Court is testing the scope of the Second Amendment and could decide what "the right to keep and bear arms" means for the 21st century.

Justices will consider the question Tuesday morning in District of Columbia v. Heller, 07-290, which involves a citizen's challenge to a Washington, D.C., law banning him from keeping a handgun in his home.

At issue is to what extent the gun rights amendment to the Constitution applies to private gun possession in a modern American city. The last time the court directly tested the Second Amendment's scope was almost seven decades ago in U.S. v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939), but courts and legal scholars debate whether it actually decided anything in that earlier ruling.

In this case, the respondent Heller is a security guard who challenged the law after police refused to issue a license allowing him to keep a handgun in his home for protection. The city's 1976 law only allows disassembled or locked rifles and shotguns, and all handguns are illegal; Heller says that violates the Second Amendment.

Last year, a federal District Court struck down the local ban after finding 2-1 that it violated what the court said was an individual right to firearms.

"Once it is determined that handguns are 'Arms' referred to in the Second Amendment, it is not open to the District to ban them," the D.C. Circuit ruled, becoming the first time any federal appeals court has relied upon the "individual right" theory to strike down a gun control law. "We conclude that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms."

Now, the city wants the nation's highest court to overturn that ruling.

In agreeing to take the Heller case, justices in November rejected questions from both sides and wrote its own question: "Whether the following provisions (of the three Washington, D.C., gun law sections) violate the Second Amendment rights of individuals who are not affiliated with any state-regulated militia, but who wish to keep handguns and other firearms for private use in their homes."

Sixty-seven amici briefs have been filed in the case, with 47 in support of Heller's Second Amendment right and 20 wanting a reversal to scale back the scope. Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter is one of 31 state attorneys general signing on to an amicus brief in support of the individual right, arguing that the Second Amendment applies to the rights of individuals, not states. The case doesn't present facts that would warrant deciding which government regulations are permissible, the states contend.

Another brief from Congress recognizes 250 House of Representative members and 55 Senators who support Heller, including five of nine Indiana representatives but no Hoosier senators. Those included are: Representatives Dan Burton, Steve Buyer, Joe Donnelly, Michael Pence, and Mark Souder.

All merit briefs can be viewed online here.

Arguments on Tuesday are scheduled to last 75 minutes, and will be rebroadcast on C-SPAN shortly after the conclusion.
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