D.C.'s Handgun Ban and the Constitutional Right to Arms: One Hard Question?

23 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2007 Last revised: 8 Nov 2013

See all articles by Nelson Lund

Nelson Lund

George Mason University School of Law


The District of Columbia forbids almost all civilians to possess handguns in their own homes. Rifles and shotguns are permitted, but they must be kept unloaded and either disassembled or secured with a trigger lock, making them useless for self defense. The D.C. Circuit recently held that this statute violates the Second Amendment.

One way to attack the D.C. Circuit decision is to argue that the Second Amendment protects the private possession of weapons only to the extent necessary to preserve in civilian hands a stock of weapons suitable for use while serving in the militia. Rifles and shotguns would be the most obviously useful weapons for militiamen to bring with them from home, and the D.C. statute permits civilians to possess rifles and shotguns, along with the ammunition these weapons require. Why does this not satisfy the Second Amendment?

This superficially plausible defense of the District's statute was not adequately refuted in Judge Silberman's opinion for the D.C. Circuit. This article demonstrates, largely but not exclusively on the basis of a careful linguistic analysis of the Second Amendment, that such a defense of the District's statute is untenable.

Keywords: Second Amendment, right to bear arms, District of Columbia, D.C. Circuit, gun control

Suggested Citation

Lund, Nelson Robert, D.C.'s Handgun Ban and the Constitutional Right to Arms: One Hard Question?. George Mason University Civil Rights Law Journal (CRLJ), Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 229-250, Winter 2007; George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 07-36. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1021356

Nelson Robert Lund (Contact Author)

George Mason University School of Law ( email )

3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States
703-993-8045 (Phone)

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