D.C. Mayor: Court Ruling May Mean More Violence

Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty speaks to reporters about the Supreme Court's decision. i i

Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty speaks to reporters. Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty speaks to reporters about the Supreme Court's decision.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty speaks to reporters.

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty says Thursday's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the District ban on handguns will mean more gun violence in the city. But the decision doesn't mean guns will go on sale in the city anytime soon.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

A landmark decision today from the Supreme Court. By a vote of five to four, the justices ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to own guns. The ruling struck down the strictest gun-control law in the country, the District of Columbia's ban on owning handguns. NPR's Libby Lewis reports.

LIBBY LEWIS: There are plenty of people here in the nation's capital who agree with Wayne LaPierre, leader of the National Rifle Association. He called the five-to-four ruling a great moment in American history, but just don't go looking for them in the Trinidad neighborhood in northeast D.C.

Ms. BARBARA ANNISON(ph) (Washington, D.C.): So what about that means, that people are going to be able to get guns? Oh no, I hope not.

LEWIS: Barbara Annison, 60, has lived in Trinidad for 30 years. She had a hard time believing the Supreme Court overturned the district's ban against handguns.

Ms. ANNISON: Don't we have enough crime out here, killing, and everybody gets - I mean, they're already getting the gun, but this way everybody, you know. And you can walk the streets, somebody just (unintelligible) you. I'm totally against it.

LEWIS: Her tree-lined neighborhood got in the national spotlight recently when D.C.'s police set up a military-style checkpoint after a spate of violence that left seven people dead in 24 hours. Now, the highest court in the land that individuals have the right to own guns as a means of self-defense.

Ms. ANGELA BRISCO(ph) (Washington, D.C.): What they (unintelligible), I'm going to get me one, because that's what it's going to come to. We're going to be like the O.K. Corral.

LEWIS: That's Angela Brisco, 46. She lives off 16th Street here. She and her friend, Michelle Johnson(ph), were outside having pizza for lunch.

Ms. BRISCO: We all know the illegal guns was out here killing people, but even if you're able to go purchase a gun now, and they get in the wrong hands…

LEWIS: Brisco and Johnson didn't think much of the court's distinction between handguns kept inside for self-defense and guns that wind up on the streets. Johnson nodded at her four-year-old daughter, Ariel(ph).

Ms. MICHELLE JOHNSON (Washington, D.C.) It's upsetting because little kids like my daughter would think, if she sees something like that, it's fun to play with, and they don't understand when you have toddlers, you have to explain to your kids what guns are.

LEWIS: They said Washington, D.C.'s mayor, Adrian Fenty, was just in their neighborhood, and Ariel met him, and he knows just how they feel, but they said they're going to tell the mayor again, just to make sure.

While they were talking about calling the mayor, Fenty was telling reporters he believes that more handguns will only lead to more handgun violence.

Mayor ADRIAN FENTY (Washington, D.C.): And as mayor of the District of Columbia, I think I speak for the near-unanimous population here in the city when we say we're disappointed, we wish the ruling had gone the other way but that we stand here, and we respect the court's power to make this ruling.

LEWIS: Acting Attorney General Peter Nichols said the city would set up a hotline for residents once it decides just how to deal with the decision.

Mr. PETER NICHOLS (Acting Attorney General): Now let me be very clear. You cannot go out today, if you have a handgun, and carry it around. This is not open season with handguns. We are going to strictly regulate the registration of handguns, and there will be no authorization of automatics or semi-automatics.

LEWIS: There are no gun shops in the city, and the city could decide to use its zoning powers to keep them out. Ron Moten with the anti-violence group Peacaholics called it a sad day for Washington, D.C.

Mr. RON MOTEN (Peacaholics): We don't believe that people really understand the magnitude that this decision will have. We already have a black market in D.C. where drugs and guns are being smuggled from Maryland, Virginia and beyond. What this would do is open up the drug market even more in D.C., where people will be selling guns, buying guns, selling guns.

LEWIS: He said he believes the decision will only make his group's work harder. Libby Lewis, NPR News, Washington.

SIEGEL: The price of oil is up again, and the stock market tumbles. A Wall Street update, just ahead on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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Supreme Court: Individuals Have Right to Bear Arms

Q&A: D.C. Gun Ban Overturned; What's Next?

The Supreme Court ruling doesn't mean that anyone can now buy and own a handgun in Washington, D.C. Those who want a gun will still need to obtain a license. Read what else to expect as a result of the court's decision.

U.S. Gun Laws: A History

The Supreme Court's decision on the right to bear arms is the latest milestone in the long history of U.S. gun legislation. Read our selected timeline of key laws.

Interpreting the Second Amendment

The decision to overturn the District of Columbia's 32-year-old ban on handguns is the Surpeme Court's first conclusive interpretation of the Second Amendment since its ratification in 1791.

 

 

 

Police Chief Cathy Lanier and District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty speak to reporters. i i

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier (left) and District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty face reporters March 18 after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the district's handgun ban. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Police Chief Cathy Lanier and District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty speak to reporters.

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier (left) and District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty face reporters March 18 after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the district's handgun ban.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In a dramatic moment on the last day of this term, the Supreme Court declared for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to self-defense and gun ownership.

For most of the last century, the interpretation of the Second Amendment has been that the right to bear arms is a collective right, such as with military service; Thursday's ruling says gun ownership is also an individual right.

The 5-4 ruling grows out of a Washington, D.C., case in which a security guard sued the district for prohibiting him from keeping his handgun at home. In the District of Columbia, it is a crime to carry an unregistered firearm, and the registration of handguns is prohibited. The rules are so strict, they essentially regulate handguns out of existence. The regulations were intended to curb gun violence in the capital city.

The ruling struck down the ban on constitutional grounds, saying it flew in the face of the constitutional right to bear arms.

An Individual Right

The precise meaning of the Second Amendment — "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed" — has long been a subject for debate. In a decision nearly 70 years ago, the justices suggested it was a collective right, not an individual right to bear arms. This is the first time the court has defined the amendment so definitively.

The two sides in this case viewed the Founding Fathers' intentions very differently. The majority of the justices said the amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia and to use that firearm for lawful purposes, such as self-defense in the home. The dissenting justices said the amendment protects only the right to possess and carry a firearm in connection with militia service.

"Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapons whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority. But it did allow for individuals to have guns for lawful purposes, such as hunting and defending themselves, he said. The majority clearly saw the individual right to own a gun.

Other Restrictions Remain

The ruling will leave intact many of the restrictions in place at the federal and state level, such as bans on a felon's right to keep a gun, and bans on assault weapons and sawed-off shotguns.

But Justice John Paul Stevens, in a dissent, said that the ruling leaves it to future courts to define the actual details of the right to bear arms. This should be the business of state legislatures, he said, and the court should stay out of it. Law-abiding citizens will be permitted to keep guns at home, but that doesn't address how state legislatures might want to regulate or curb gun ownership.

The court also struck down Washington's requirement that firearms be equipped with trigger locks.

In a separate dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said, "In my view, there simply is no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas."

Mixed Reactions

The presumptive Republican nominee for president, Sen. John McCain, released a statement applauding the decision.

"Today's ruling makes clear that other municipalities like Chicago that have banned handguns have infringed on the constitutional rights of Americans," he said. He also took a thinly veiled shot at the presumptive Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama.

"Unlike the elitist view that believes Americans cling to guns out of bitterness, today's ruling recognizes that gun ownership is a fundamental right — sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly."

Obama signaled his approval of the ruling in a statement Thursday.

"Today's ruling, the first clear statement on this issue in 127 years, will provide much-needed guidance to local jurisdictions across the country," he said, adding that "what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne," but the decision reinforced that "if we act responsibly, we can both protect the constitutional right to bear arms and keep our communities and our children safe."

Gun rights supporters hailed the decision. "I consider this the opening salvo in a step-by-step process of providing relief for law-abiding Americans everywhere that have been deprived of this freedom," said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association.

The NRA said it will file lawsuits in San Francisco, Chicago and several of its suburbs challenging handgun restrictions there based on Thursday's outcome.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a leading gun control advocate in Congress, criticized the ruling: "I believe the people of this great country will be less safe because of it," she said.

D.C.'s Law

The capital's gun law was among the nation's strictest.

Dick Anthony Heller, 66, an armed security guard, sued the district after it rejected his application to keep a handgun at his home for protection in the same Capitol Hill neighborhood as the court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in Heller's favor and struck down Washington's handgun ban, saying the Constitution guarantees Americans the right to own guns and that a total prohibition on handguns is not compatible with that right.

The issue caused a split within the Bush administration. Vice President Dick Cheney supported the appeals court ruling, but others in the administration feared it could lead to the undoing of other gun regulations, including a federal law restricting sales of machine guns. Other laws keep felons from buying guns and provide for an instant background check.

Scalia said nothing in Thursday's ruling should "cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings."

The law adopted by Washington's city council in 1976 bars residents from owning handguns unless they had one before the law took effect. Shotguns and rifles may be kept in homes if they are registered, kept unloaded and either disassembled or equipped with trigger locks.

Opponents of the law have said it prevents residents from defending themselves. The district says no one would be prosecuted for a gun law violation in cases of self-defense.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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