On June 26, 2008, in a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right of individual Americans to keep and bear arms. The court said gun ownership is an individual right, not connected with military service, and that it can be regulated in some ways.
The court’s ruling struck down the District of Columbia’s 32-year-old ban on handguns as incompatible with gun rights under the Second Amendment. The decision went further than even the Bush administration wanted, but probably leaves most firearms laws intact.
The court had not conclusively interpreted the Second Amendment since its ratification in 1791. The amendment 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 basic issue for the justices was whether the amendment protects an individual's right to own guns no matter what, or whether that right is somehow tied to service in a state militia.
The capital's gun law was among the nation's strictest. 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.
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.
Study: Half of gun deaths are suicides
A public health study released just days after the Supreme Court decision showed that surprisingly often gun owners use the weapons on themselves.
In 2007, a total of 683 young Americans ages 10-19 committed suicide with firearms. Unlike suicide attempts using other methods, suicide attempts with guns are nearly always fatal. Nearly two-thirds of all completed teenage suicides involve a firearm.
Public-health researchers have concluded that in homes where guns are present, the likelihood that someone in the home will die from suicide or homicide is three to five times greater. Additionally, more than 90 percent of suicide attempts using guns are successful, while the success rate for jumping from high places was 34 percent. The success rate for drug overdose was 2 percent.
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