On June 26, 2008, the Supreme Court affirmed by a vote of 5 to 4 the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Heller v. District of Columbia. The Supreme Court struck down provisions of the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975 as unconstitutional, determined that handguns are “arms” for the purposes of the Second Amendment, found that the Regulations Act was an unconstitutional ban, and struck down the portion of the Regulations Act that requires all firearms including rifles and shotguns be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock”. Prior to this decision the Firearms Control Regulation Act of 1975 also restricted residents from owning handguns except for those registered prior to 1975.
District of Columbia v. Heller essentially changed a nearly 70-year precedent set by Miller in 1939. While the Miller ruling focused on the “well regulated militia” portion of the Second Amendment (known as the “collective rights theory” and referring to a state’s right to defend itself), Heller focused on the “individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia.”
Heller challenged the constitutionality of a 32-year-old handgun ban in Washington, D.C., and found, “The handgun ban and the trigger-lock requirement (as applied to self-defense) violate the Second Amendment.”
It did not however nullify other gun control provisions. “The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms,” stated the ruling.
NRA lawyers were concerned that the justices at the time the case was filed might reach an unfavorable decision. Wayne LaPierre confirmed the NRA’s misgivings. “There was a real dispute on our side among the constitutional scholars about whether there was a majority of justices on the Supreme Court who would support the Constitution as written,” The NRA did eventually support the litigation by filing an amicus brief with the Court arguing that the plaintiffs in Parker had standing to sue and that the D.C. ban was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment.