Statement of Violence Policy Center on Supreme Court Ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller Overturning DC Handgun Ban

For Release: Thursday, June 26, 2008

Supreme Court Ruling Overturning DC Handgun Ban Should Allow Ban on Semiautomatic Handguns to Stand

Washington, DC–Following today’s 5-4 Supreme Court opinion authored by 2007 Sport Shooting Ambassador Award winner Antonin Scalia (see for more info) overturning Washington, DC’s handgun ban, but apparently allowing for the retention of the law’s ban on most semiautomatic weapons, including semiautomatic handguns (see background information after statement), Violence Policy Center (VPC) Legislative Director Kristen Rand states:

“Today’s opinion turns legal logic and common sense on its head. As measured in gun death and injury, handguns are our nation’s most lethal category of firearm: accounting for the vast majority of the 30,000 Americans who die from guns each year. Handguns are our nation’s leading murder and suicide tool. Yet the majority opinion offers the greatest offender the strongest legal protection. It’s analogous to the Court carving out special constitutional protection for child pornography in a First Amendment case.

“In its ruling, the Court has ignored our nation’s history of mass shootings, assassinations, and unparalleled gun violence. It has instead accepted an abstract academic argument with dangerous real-world results for residents of the District of Columbia. Thankfully, because the plaintiff in Heller did not challenge the District’s ban on “machine guns,” Washington, DC’s ban on most semiautomatic weapons, including semiauto handguns, should be unaffected.”

The ruling comes one day after a Kentucky factory worker killed five co-workers with a handgun before taking his own life. For a copy of the amicus brief submitted by the VPC in the case, please see

Background Information

The Court’s ruling today does not appear to affect the District’s ban on “machine guns,” which under DC law includes any gun “which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily converted or restored to shoot semiautomatically, more than 12 shots without manual reloading.” This definition would include virtually all semiautomatic handguns. As a result, the District’s ban can remain in force for those types of handguns, commonly known as pistols. In essence, the Court’s ruling for the most part will only affect revolvers and derringers.

Semiautomatic guns fire one shot per trigger pull, have greater ammunition capacity, and can be quickly and easily reloaded. They are the weapon of choice in mass shootings and police killings, and are the most common type of handgun manufactured in America, representing 73 percent of the 1,403,329 handguns manufactured in the United States in 2006 (the last year for which figures are available). In contrast, revolvers hold only five to six ammunition rounds, fire more slowly, take time to reload, and represent only 27 percent of the handguns manufactured in 2006.





About the Violence Policy Center
The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

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