Lund to Time: Stakes are High in D.C. v. Heller

"An entire provision of the Bill of Rights is really at stake in this case," Professor Nelson Lund told Time in discussing arguments in D.C. v. Heller, a case currently awaiting a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Heller involves a Washington, D.C., ban prohibiting possession of handguns not registered as of 1976. The case has polarized those who differ in their interpretation of whether the right of an individual to own firearms is guaranteed under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Lund argued that the Second Amendment would become in essence a "dead law" should the Supreme Court fail to affirm fully an individual's right to bear arms.

"If they say it's an individual right but D.C.'s statute is permissible under the Second Amendment, then the Second Amendment won't have much practical effect," Lund said. "The D.C. statutes are essentially an attempt to disarm the civilian population," he continued. "If that's permissible, then what isn't?"

Early indications are that a majority of justices are sympathetic to arguments by those opposed to the D.C. law. The Court's finding in the case may be issued as early as June.

Gun Control Laws in the Cross Hairs, Time, March 19, 2008. By Alex Altman.

"For decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has stood apart from the debate raging over gun control. It hasn't ruled on the Second Amendment since May 1939--almost four months before the Nazis rolled into Poland. But on Tuesday the Court injected itself into the center of a fiery dispute, hearing arguments in a gun control case that marks the amendment's greatest test since it was ratified in 1791. During the argument, a majority of justices appeared to signal that the right to bear arms extends to ordinary Americans, a belief that could redraw the lines of this contentious cultural battle.

"At issue in the case, D.C. v. Heller, is the city's ban prohibiting possession of handguns that were not registered as of 1976. Dick Anthony Heller, a security guard, sued the district after it denied him permission to register, and thus possess, a handgun that he wanted to keep in his home for protection. A federal appeals court in D.C. sided with Heller, finding that the city's gun ban--considered the nation's strictest--violated Heller's Second Amendment right to bear arms. The text of the amendment, arguably one of the more convoluted in the Constitution, reads, '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.'

"The appeals court ruling, however, doesn't necessarily square with legal precedent. In the 1939 case, U.S. v. Miller, the Supreme Court ruled, 'We cannot say that the Second Amendment extends to them, that belief has never been unequivocally grounded in the law.'"