Second Amendment in Spotlight as Court Hears Gun Case

JIM LEHRER: Next, today's big handgun challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court. NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman begins with some background.

KWAME HOLMAN: With 26 murders since January, the District of Columbia is on its way to another year ranking among cities with the highest homicide rates. Roughly 80 percent of Washington's homicides have come by handguns.

The district has tried to combat the violence by banning ownership of handguns in the city. But D.C. resident Tom Palmer says 25 years ago a handgun saved his life, when he and a friend were threatened in San Jose, California, by a group of young men.

TOM PALMER, District of Columbia Resident: We ran to a streetlight, and I turned around and showed them the business end of a nine-millimeter pistol. And it wasn't like in the movies. It wasn't heroic or exciting. They stopped.

And I said, "Don't come any closer. If you come closer, I will kill you." No one was hurt. I brandished it. I'm very glad I did not have to discharge it and harm anybody. But there's no question in my mind that I saved our lives, that they were quite intent on killing us, and they certainly could have done it.

KWAME HOLMAN: In 2003, Palmer and five other district residents sued the city for the right to keep handguns in their homes. They said the city's handgun ban violates the Constitution.

TOM PALMER: It's completely forbidden to have a pistol in the District of Columbia. I should say it's forbidden for law-abiding citizens. All the criminals have them, and we know that. But law-abiding citizens are disarmed in D.C.