WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court said on Tuesday it would decide whether handguns can be banned in the nation's capital, a case that could produce its first ruling in nearly 70 years on the right of Americans to bear arms.
The nation's highest court agreed to hear an appeal by officials from the District of Columbia government arguing that the city's 31-year-old law banning private possession of handguns should be upheld as constitutional.
The justices said they would review a precedent-setting ruling by a U.S. appeals court that broadly interpreted an individual's constitutional right under the Second Amendment to bear arms and struck down the city's law for violating those rights.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case most likely in late February or in March, with a ruling expected by the end of June. The decision could be a factor in the political debate in the 2008 elections.
Supporters and opponents of the law, one of the strictest in the nation, agreed the case could have important legal and political significance.
The Second Amendment says, "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."
City lawyers argued the amendment guaranteed the right to bear arms only in connection with service in a state-regulated militia, like today's National Guard, and not for individuals.
But the appeals court adopted the position that the Bush administration has advocated previously -- that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to keep and bear arms.
The justices, in their decision to take the case, rephrased the issue as whether provisions of the Washington handgun ban violate the Second Amendment rights of individuals "who wish to keep handguns and other firearms for private use in their homes."
The Supreme Court has not ruled on the scope of the Second Amendment since a 1939 decision when it upheld a federal gun control law but did not definitively resolve the constitutional issue.
(Reporting by Randall Mikkelsen, Editing by David Alexander)