Stories

Flashback: How the Supreme Court's Heller decision reshaped gun rights

Dick Heller wearing a hat that says "Make America Free Again."
Dick Heller, plaintiff in D.C. v Heller, at CPAC in 2018. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A decade ago, the Supreme Court decided District of Columbia v. Heller — arguably the most important decision regarding the application of Second Amendment rights.

The big picture: The fight for stronger gun-control laws has intensified after shootings like those in Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, and Parkland, and the Heller decision has been a focal point of court rulings regarding gun rights around the country. Since Heller, and a landmark Second Amendment case in 2010, the Supreme Court has declined to take on cases brought by gun rights activists, NPR reports. But as Justice Anthony Kennedy retires and President Trump eyes a more conservative replacement, that could change.

The details

  • The court decided in 2008 that the Second Amendment allows private citizens to posses firearms unconnected with military service, and "use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home."
  • And it ruled that the Second Amendment is not "unlimited." Per Justice Scalia: "It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."
  • It also labeled D.C.'s handgun ban and trigger-lock requirement unconstitutional, as they stood in the way of citizens' right to self-defense.

How it's been used

  • In 2017, D.C. officials declined to appeal a D.C. Court of Appeals ruling that said D.C. citizens didn't need to show a "good reason" to carry concealed. Per the Washington Post, the fear of the Supreme Court striking down more restrictions as it did with the Heller case convinced them not to appeal it.
  • A Massachusetts judge decided in April that AR-15 rifles aren't protected under the Second Amendment, citing the decision in Heller that the Second Amendment has limitations.
  • A Michigan judge, Mark Cavanagh, referenced Heller this year after the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the University of Michigan could keep its ban on guns on campus.
  • The Supreme Court has declined to hear challenges on similar laws which banned assault weapons, in Maryland and Highland Park, Illinois, the Washington Post reported, which "can be read as consistent with the court's ruling" in Heller, specifically Scalia's note that the Second Amendment is not unlimited.