District of Columbia v. Heller

Following is the case brief for District of Columbia v. Heller, United States Supreme Court,(2008)

Case summary for District of Columbia v. Heller:

  • Heller challenged a D.C. statute, which prohibited the possession of a handgun without a license and trigger lock, claiming it violated the Second Amendment.
  • Any guns possessed in the home were to remain inoperable.
  • The Supreme Court held that although the Second Amendment was created specifically for militia related purposes, it did not permit the government to burden an individual’s right to bear arms.
  • The Court affirmed the circuit court’s judgment and ruled that possession of a firearm is still subject to regulations.

District of Columbia v. Heller Case Brief

Statement of the facts:

Special police officer Heller, applied for a registration certificate for a hand gun, from the city of Washington. A D.C. statute prohibited possessing a handgun in the home without a license. In addition, the statute required lawful handguns at home to be inoperable using a trigger lock even when necessary for self-defense purposes. The city denied Heller’s registration certificate under the statute. In response, Heller filed suit in federal district court. He claimed the city’s law, prohibiting the registration of handguns along with the trigger lock requirement and exclusion of at home guns, is unconstitutional under the Second Amendment.

Procedural History:

After the district court dismissed Heller’s complaint, the D.C.circuit court reversed, ruling that statute violates the individual right to bear arms. The Supreme Court of the United States then granted certiorari.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

The Second Amendment creates an individual right to keep and bear arms separate from military purposes.

Issue and Holding:

Whether a law prohibiting the possession of operable handguns in the home violates the Second Amendment? Yes.


The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s judgment.


The purpose behind the Second Amendment’s creation was to ensure the creation of future militia. This does not change the fact that the Second Amendment was initially designed to create right in an individual to bear arms. This right is not conditional in application to military purposes only. The right to keep firearms belongs to the individual and is subject to regulation based on safety conditions.

Here, as long as Heller does not fall into one of the categories of persons prohibited from possessing a firearm under safety concerns, he is entitled to possess a handgun. The D.C. statute is unconstitutional and Heller may possess a handgun in his home and is not subject to the requirement that the handgun be inoperable.

Concurring or Dissenting opinion:

Dissenting (Breyer):

The Second Amendment right to bear arms is not absolute and the D.C. statute is not unconstitutional. The statute should only be overturned if the regulation is unreasonable or inappropriate. A better approach to determine constitutionality would be a balancing test between the government’s interest and the right of the individual interest.

Dissenting (Stevens):

The majority fails to describe the scope of the individual right to bear arms. Under Miller and historical context, the individual right to keep and bear arms was solely for the purpose of preserving a well-regulated militia. Since Heller is not seeking to use the handgun for militia purposes, the majority is incorrect.


District of Columbia v. Heller had a major impact on the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. This decision established that bearing arms is not limited to militia related purposes. The possession of fire arms are, however, subject to regulation.

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