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Outside the Supreme Court, waiting to hear District of Columbia v. Heller. Source: David Gura/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Source: David Gura/NPR

On my walk home yesterday, I passed the Supreme Court. On most evenings, there isn't much traffic on First Street, Northeast. Last night, it was bustling. Television cameras and network news correspondents lined the sidewalk, and a group of would-be spectators formed a queue that stretched from the stairs to the street corner. They'd ordered pizzas, set up folding chairs, and covered themselves in blankets and sleeping bags.

By arriving early, they had hoped to get tickets to one of the hottest shows in town: District of Columbia v. Heller, an Supreme Court argument about gun control. Huzzah! Ah, Washington....

Essentially, the case centers on an ordinance that makes it illegal to own a handgun for self-defense in the District of Columbia. For the first time in more than two centuries, the Supreme Court could decide whether the Constitution guarantees every American's right to own a gun. (For more information about District of Columbia v. Heller, read this.)

By 8:55 this morning, as I headed back to NPR, "Camp SCOTUS" had been disassembled, police officers had corralled everyone into an orderly queue, and a band of protesters competed for attention. Arguments began at 10 a.m.

The proceedings ran late, but we'll have audio from the oral arguments and insights from David Savage, of the Los Angeles Times, during the first hour. And you'll have a chance to ask Walter Dellinger and Alan Gura (no relation), who argued the case today, your questions. Do you think that the right to own a gun is as unalienable as, say, the right to free speech?



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Why not require liability insurance?
the ARA could sell their own insurance, they could have a victims fund from it
and police could PU folks who don't carry it. My guess premiums for grandpas squirl rifle wouldn't be much and that an AK 47 might cost a bit to insure, so it' won't cure all ills but at least it creates a reasonable way to
get some kind of handle on the issue.

Sent by susan webster | 2:17 PM | 3-18-2008

There would be no confusion about what the founding father's meant in the 2nd amendment if there was thought given to what a gun was, and how it operated, in the time of the founding fathers. There were no shells. A gun couldn't be preloaded for long. You couldn't just whip out a gun in your home to shoot an attacker. Guns were useful only in an army formation, or for hunting. All guns in the time of the founding fathers were disassembled. You had to load powder, wanding, and shot. If you were very well practiced, this could be done in under a minute, man. The founding fathers never intended that we all go around with deadly weapons threatening each other, which is just what you have in some states.

Sent by Mike Holloway | 2:19 PM | 3-18-2008

The essence of the 2nd Amendment is contained in the phrasing ". . .being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." The founding fathers added this amendment to the original document in an effort to guarantee to the people that the federal government, which so many feared, would not become too overbearing and imposing. The fact that the citizens of each of the states maintained potential ownership of firearms meant that an intrusive federal government, making unauthorized or presumptive moves against the populace of a particular city or region, could expect to encounter an armed and aggressive response to that federal intrusion. Thomas Jefferson welcomed periodic revolts and uprisings as governmental purgatives, eliminating those bad aspects of a democratic government and preserving the good ones.

Sent by David Hines | 2:28 PM | 3-18-2008

I think that gun owners confuse owning a gun and involvement in society. Crime is combated not by guns but by an involved society. we have left the combating of crime not ourselves but to the individual who does need a weapon.

Sent by brian steidl | 2:34 PM | 3-18-2008

If the 2nd Amendment was intended to apply to "individual" rights to keep and bare arms it would not mention / reference to "States". If the court interprets it as an personal/individual right rather than as State right it would be clear revisionist, i.e., not strict, interpretation of the Constitution.

Sent by Ralph McNall | 2:35 PM | 3-18-2008

The thing I find most amazing is that while people have brought up the issue that the 2nd amendment was written at a different time, no one has related this to the fact that much of what we consider a "militia" has been taken over by other organizations - for instance the first police force was instituted in London sometime in the mid-19th century, and they did not come into the U.S. for decades after this. In Revolutionary times if there was an attack of bandits you would raise the militia against them - nowadays you would call 911 and the police would investigate. Also in most towns the militia was raised for large fires or natural disasters, or really anything else thought of as a "threat," including non-payment of taxes (the first use of the U.S. Militia by George Washington) - which today might be handled by what we call the modern militia, but also modern fire departments, police, FBI, Hazmat units and many other agencies. But this does not seem to be much of an argument being made to the Supreme court - not that the idea of the 2nd amendment is exactly antiquated, but has been superceded by more modern organizations.

Sent by Spencer Markowitz | 2:39 PM | 3-18-2008

1)How do you keep guns from people who have them ILLEGALLY and use them ILLEGALLY already? What will improve on the crime front?
2)If you define the amendment to only State Militia purposes and make it illegal for citizens to own guns...if it is ever determined by a state that they need to form said militia, where are the unarmed citizens going to suddenly obtain guns from?

Sent by Leah | 2:41 PM | 3-18-2008

My understanding is that somewhere between eight and nine times out of ten in the U.S., when someone is shot as a result of a homeowner discharging his or her firearm
in the home in the act of 'defending'
the home, it is NOT an intruder or burglar but rather a friend or family member that is shot.

Sent by Davis Walters | 2:41 PM | 3-18-2008

All due respect and sympathy to Nick, but the crimes he sited were committed with the ban in place. What would his opinion be if a citizen in legal possession of a hand gun had prevented or mitigated either of those attacks?

Sent by Tom Chekouras | 2:42 PM | 3-18-2008

Although I respect the caller Nick's opinion on street violence, I differ with his desire for the gun ban. Any ban on guns will only force law abiding citizens to turn in their guns as directed by the police and government. Criminals will not do so. There will be two side effects of a gun ban, these are: 1. Criminals will no longer be afraid of armed citizens and will be more apt to commit crimes in people's homes., and 2. The underground trade of illegal guns will continue as it does today. There may even be a rise in illegal gun importation (just as happens with drugs) to support the illegal trade.

I think Nick would find that the danger would shift to inside his home and out on the street, rather than only out on the street.

Sent by Hans | 2:43 PM | 3-18-2008

As is usually the case, neither extreme really answers the question, unless it is formed in the manner they want it. Why is it that every place else in the Constitution "the people" refers to individuals, yet here it only means a militia? But, allowing an individual right does not necessarily mean everyone gets a machine gun.

There are reasonable limitations on speech, for example, in the name of public safety, even including prior restraint in some cases.

The references to English Law are indeed relevant as to the distinction between peasants, who may not keep or bear arms and the soldiers of the lord or king who may, whether in formation or not. It is a key distinction between being a "free" people or a people ruled.

There is no argument here that guns can and do cause death and damage when used criminally or recklessly. So do autos, alcohol and many other things, but that does not mean that no one may have a car or drink alcohol because a small minority drink and drive and do terrible harm to others.

The difference here is that having an auto will not protect you from a drunk driver, but having a firearm and ready access to it, may protect you from harm by someone else, whether they are armed with a bat or a gun. This is especially important for those who may not be able to physically fend off an attacker.

As I said up front, like most things it is not a matter of all or none.

Sent by Ron Denton | 2:44 PM | 3-18-2008

On Talk of The Nation moments ago, there was a caller Nick who says he grew up in Washington DC and that both his sister and brother were victims of handgun violence within the last few years. He failed to realize that these crimes were committed *during* the handgun ban which has been in effect for over 30 years now. Since handguns are already banned in DC, what does he actually want to government to do?

Sent by Sarkoon | 2:48 PM | 3-18-2008

Proponents of gun bans seem to miss the point that bans only affect honest, law-abiding citizens. The criminals get to keep their guns because they are 'criminals' and the honest person is left defenseless. This is exactly what has happened in D.C.

Sent by Andrew Lund | 2:49 PM | 3-18-2008

The comedy here is that this case concerns Washington D.C.! The gun offenders in D.C. don't know what the Constitution or the Supreme Court is; law abiding gun owners do and we want our rights. We must prepare for the tyranny of the Clintons.

Sent by Sue | 3:20 PM | 3-18-2008

In the same way that the militia is antiquated and superceded by modern organizations not conceivable by the Founding Fathers, I would argue that the concept of having the countryside prepared with arms to be borne to a statewide weapons-take at the sign of a threat to the community is an idea somewhat antiquated as well. The Framers meant for people to be armed so that in such a situation every able-bodied-man would spring up from every corner to put down any threat which might have arisen - and the thought of modern office workers, engineers, teachers, doctors, lawyers and truck drivers all heeding a call to gather their rifles and assemble into a force of maybe 50 million men (90 million men and women?) possessing individual small arms prepared to fight the present foe is almost beyond modern imagination - let alone the effort and expense Congress would have to expend to periodically train and govern this enormous force whose role would be to back-up the regular army. Yet this sort of thing is what Jefferson and Madison had in mind because it was what was expected in 18th century America.
But today, even if some threat so potent were to arise, what would actually occur? Small private militias might arise in places, but there is no mechanism in place any more for the training and summoning the general armament of the citizens of the nation. Perhaps in such an emergency Congress would hire private militias, or management companies to coordinate private insurgencies to a common goal - but just using the word "insurgency" - the same type of piecemeal, countrywide violence occurring now in Iraq, Gaza, Sudan, Tibet and elsewhere - illustrates just how different from our current American lives things would have to be to even consider moving towards anything like what the Framers had in mind when they drafted the Bill of Rights.
I am not in favor of eliminating any right of individuals to bear (reasonable) arms and weaponry in this country, but I am not so sure that our modern age has anything to do with what the Founding Fathers were actually looking for in the 2nd Amendment, and that being so I'm not at all certain that the original "Right to Bear Arms" is still a basic protection offered by the Constitution any more.

Sent by Spencer Markowitz | 3:32 PM | 3-18-2008

we have every right to keep our firearms thats in the second amendment and I feel that the government has no right to take that away they may raise the prices on handguns but they should not take away our rights if some idiot is ripping down youre front door what are you going to do? the rifle and shotgun wont be as quick to aim as the handgun if the goverment ban handguns every doesnt man will be without a handgun and guess who will have handguns the gangsters and idiots will have handguns then the government will ban every thing that will reload itself that includes fully auto semi auto revolver and a lot more my point is what ever the government banns who has those items?stupid people or responsable citizens? so who will have handguns?

Sent by Forrest | 3:55 PM | 3-18-2008