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Court strikes down D.C. handgun law

Story Highlights

• Appeals court cites Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms
• Ruling says framers didn't intend to limit gun possession to militias
• Washington mayor outraged, vows to take argument higher
• Supreme Court has not addressed issue in nearly 70 years
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a landmark legal victory for opponents of gun control, a federal appeals court Friday struck down a District of Columbia ban on keeping handguns in homes as a violation of the Second Amendment's right to keep and bear arms.

In its 2-to-1 decision, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that the amendment's guarantee belongs to individuals and was not a collective right limited to members of militias -- something gun-control proponents long have contended.

"The amendment does not protect the right of militiamen to keep and bear arms, but rather the right of the people," the majority opinion said. "If the competent drafters of the Second Amendment had meant the right to be limited to the protection of state militias, it is hard to imagine that they would have chosen the language they did."

Friday's decision marks the first time a federal appeals court has struck down a gun law on Second Amendment grounds, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence.

The gun-control group blasted the ruling as "judicial activism at its worst."

Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty vowed the city will "do everything within our power to work to get this decision overturned."

"I am personally deeply disappointed and, quite frankly, outraged by today's decision," said Fenty, who said the city would first ask the full circuit court to reconsider the case before deciding whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The National Rifle Association, which opposes gun control, called the ruling a "significant victory for individual Second Amendment rights."

"The District of Columbia Circuit Court today affirmed that the Second Amendment of the Constitution protects an inherent, individual right to bear arms," the NRA said in a statement.

According to The Associated Press, Washington is one of just two major U.S. cities (the other is Chicago) with a comprehensive gun ban. It was enacted in 1976.

The court struck down portions of the Washington law that bar keeping handguns in the home and require other firearms to be stored disassembled.

The appeals court's decision noted that despite the ruling, the amendment remains subject to "reasonable restrictions," such as gun registration and ownership limits for certain individuals, AP reported.

The court did not address another portion of the law that prohibits people from carrying unregistered guns on the streets, which Fenty said would continue to be "vigorously" enforced.

Second Amendment's wording at issue

At issue in the case was the wording of the Second Amendment, which is broken into two parts: "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."

Washington had contended that the reference to "people" in the second part of the amendment should be considered as a collective right applicable only to the "militia" referred to in the first part.

But the judges in the majority held that the phrase "people" is well understood in constitutional law to refer to individuals -- and that the first clause was an explanation of the major purpose of the second clause, not a limitation on it.

"We ... take it as an expression of the drafters' view that the people possessed a natural right to keep and bear arms, and that the preservation of the militia was the right's most salient political benefit -- and thus the most appropriate to express in a political document," the ruling said.

"I think this is well positioned for review by the Supreme Court," Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University, told the AP.

The Supreme Court has not taken up the issue of the Second Amendment's scope in almost 70 years, according to AP.

Attorneys general from 13 states filed a brief supporting the D.C. residents who opposed the law, while four other state attorneys general backed D.C.'s position, along with the cities of New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.


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