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.
Washington Both sides in the dispute over the handgun ban in the nation's capital point to a grim statistic: Guns were used in four out of every five homicides in Washington this year.
The numbers would be even worse if Washington did not have its strict gun control law, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said Tuesday.
The ban's opponents countered that residents must be able to protect themselves because their government can't.
The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will decide whether the District of Columbia's handgun ban violates the Constitution. The case could produce the most in-depth examination of the constitutional right to "keep and bear arms" in nearly 70 years.
Legal experts and participants in the case said could be among the court's most important in some time because the justices have had so little to say about the Second Amendment.
"Any resolution of the question will have a significant impact on gun regulation across the country," said Harvard Law School professor Mark Tushnet, author of a new book on the debate over guns.
The government of Washington, D.C., is asking the court to uphold its 31-year ban on handgun ownership in the face of a federal appeals court ruling that struck down the ban as incompatible with the Second Amendment. Tuesday's announcement was widely expected, especially after both the District and the man who challenged the handgun ban asked for the high court review.
The main issue before the justices is whether the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to own guns or instead merely sets forth the collective right of states to maintain militias. The former interpretation would permit fewer restrictions on gun ownership.
Gun-control advocates say the Second Amendment was intended to ensure that states could maintain militias, a response to 18th-century fears of an all-powerful national government. Gun rights proponents contend the amendment gives individuals the right to keep guns for private uses, including self-defense.
Alan Gura, a lawyer for Washington residents who challenged the ban, said he was pleased that the justices were considering the case.
Guns can be regulated but not banned, Gura said. "This isn't going to let crazy people have guns or felons have guns," he said at a news conference outside the court.
Washington banned handguns in 1976, saying it was designed to reduce violent crime in the nation's capital.
The City Council that adopted the ban said it was justified because "handguns have no legitimate use in the purely urban environment of the District of Columbia."
The District is making several arguments in defense of the restriction, including claiming that the Second Amendment involves militia service. It also said the ban is constitutional because it limits the choice of firearms but does not prohibit residents from owning any guns at all.
Rifles and shotguns are legal, if kept under lock or disassembled. Businesses may have guns for protection.