The Supreme Court announced today that it will decide whether the District of Columbia's ban on handguns violates the Constitution, a choice that will put the justices at the center of the controversy over the meaning of the Second Amendment for the first time in nearly 70 years.
The court's decision could have broad implications for gun-control measures locally and across the country and will raise a hotly contested political issue just in time for the 2008 elections.
The court will likely hear the case in March, with a decision coming before justices adjourn at the end of June.
For years, legal scholars, historians and grammarians have debated the meaning of the amendment because of its enigmatic wording and odd punctuation:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
Gun rights proponents say the words guarantee the right of an individual to possess firearms. Gun-control supporters say it conveys only a civic or "collective" right to own guns as part of service in an organized military organization.
"For the first time in nearly 70 years, the Supreme Court has agreed to examine the meaning of the Second Amendment," said Robert A. Levy, the Cato Institute scholar who funded the lawsuit on behalf of a group of District resident.
"That's good news for all Americans who would like to be able to defend themselves where they live and sleep. And it's especially good news for residents of Washington, D.C., which has been the murder capital of the nation despite an outright ban on all functional firearms since 1976."
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