Court rejects Washington, D.C., handgun ban

A U.S. federal appeals court overturned Washington, D.C.'s long-standing handgun ban Friday, rejecting the city's argument that the legal right to bear arms applies only to militias.

A U.S. federal Appeals Court on Friday overturned Washington, D.C.'s long-standing handgun ban, rejecting the city's argument that the legal right to bear arms applies only to militias.

In a 2-1 decision, the judges held that the activities protected by the Second Amendment "are not limited to militia service, nor is an individual's enjoyment of the right contingent" on enrolment in a militia.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the city cannot prevent people from keeping handguns in their homes.

The ruling also struck down a requirement that owners of registered firearms keep them unloaded and disassembled. The court did not address provisions that prohibit people from carrying unregistered guns outside the home.

The decision marks the first time a federal Appeals Court has struck down a portion of a gun law on Second Amendment grounds.

"Today's decision flies in the face of gun laws that have helped decrease gun violence in the District of Columbia," Mayor Adrian Fenty said.

The city will likely appeal for another Appeal Courthearing before any appeal to the Supreme Court,Fenty said.

D.C. law unusual

Washington and Chicago are the only two major U.S. cities with sweeping handgun bans. Washington's ban on owning handguns went into effect in 1976 and is considered the toughest in the nation, according to the National Rifle Association.

While courts in other parts of the country have upheld bans on automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns, the D.C. law is unusual because it involves a prohibition on all pistols.

The current appeals case comes after a lower-court judge ruled in 2004 that six city residents did not have a constitutional right to own handguns. The plaintiffs included residents of high-crime neighbourhoods who wanted the guns for protection.

On Friday, Judge Laurence Silberman of the Appeals Court explained that wording is part of the reason the 2004 decision was overturned.

"The district's definition of the militia is just too narrow," Silbermanwrote on behalf of the majority judges.

Judge Karen Henderson dissented, writing that the Second Amendment does not apply to the District of Columbia because it is not a state.

U.S. President George W. Bush and his administration have endorsed individual gun-ownership rights, but the Supreme Court has never settled the issue.

If the dispute makes it to the high court, it would be the first case in nearly 70 years to address the Second Amendment's scope.