Nov. 20, 2007 — -- In a decision that could affect gun control laws across the nation, the Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to carry a gun.
It has been 70 years since the high court has focused on the meaning of the words "right to keep and bear arms" in the Second Amendment and the case is sure to ignite cultural battles across the country.
The Supreme Court agreed to step in because the issue has caused a deep split in the lower courts. While a majority of courts have said that the right to bear arms refers in connection to service in a state militia, two federal courts have said the amendment protects an individual's right to keep a gun.
One of those courts, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, went as far as striking down a decades-long ban on the private ownership of handguns in the District of Columbia. It is this case the court has agreed to consider.
D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty brought the case to the Supreme Court in an effort to save the district's gun ban -- one of the strictest in the nation -- that went into effect in 1976. Fenty argues, "Whatever right the Second Amendment guarantees, it does not require the district to stand by while its citizens die."
The mayor is concerned that if the gun ban is overturned, there will be even more handguns available in the streets. "The District of Columbia has too many handguns," Fenty said.
In court papers his lawyers argue, "Handguns are the weapon most likely to be used in a street crime. Although only a third of the nation's firearms are handguns, they are responsible for far more killings, woundings and crimes than all other types of firearms combined."
The law banned residents from owning a handgun unless they already had a permit.
D.C. residents like Shelly Parker sued the city saying she had a constitutional right to protect herself. Parker said she wants a gun because "it acts as a deterrent to the criminals to me."
On March 9, 2007, the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. ruled in favor of the residents. In a 2-1 ruling, the appeals court said the Constitution's Second Amendment protects a person's right to own a gun ( see Federal Court Strikes Down D.C. Gun Ban).
The district will argue that the Second Amendment does not prevent the city from enacting reasonable regulations to limit gun possessions in order to protect residents.
The petition raises one question: "whether the Second Amendment forbids the District of Columbia from banning private possession of handguns while allowing possession of rifles and shotguns."
Lawyers for the district say that question could allow the justices to narrowly decide the case by saying D.C. law already gives residents the ability to protect themselves with other types of weapons.
The mayor and D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer believe the gun ban will stay in place.
"We would not have filed this with the Supreme Court if we did not think we would win," Singer told ABC News.
But lawyers opposing the gun ban argue in court papers that the city's efforts to fight crime are falling short. They write, "The city consistently fights to secure its right to stand by while its citizens are victimized by crime."
Gun control advocates worry that the court's action will embolden gun rights advocates. Dennis A. Henigan of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun violence argues, "The whole purpose of the litigation is to achieve a Supreme Court precedent that they will use to attack many other laws."
Henigan said, "This will inspire years and years of litigation and undercut the network of gun laws."
The case should be heard early next year. For now, the D.C. gun ban stays in effect.