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D.C. court says gun ban unconstitutional
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled last Friday that the D.C. gun restrictions are unconstitutional, overruling a previous decision by D.C. District Court.
The 2-1 decision abrogated the 1976 law which stated that handguns cannot be registered in the District and “long-guns,” including rifles and shotguns, cannot be moved, even from room-to-room within one’s personal home, without a permit. It also states that long-guns can never be fully assembled or loaded, including when being used for self-defense.
“You cannot have it ever in a functional condition,” Attorney Alan Gura (LAW,’95) of the law firm Gura & Possessky, said.
Gura, arguing against the D.C. government in Shelly Parker et al. vs. District of Columbia, claimed that the handgun ban and restrictions on long-guns violate the Second Amendment. He represented six individual D.C. citizens who wanted to have guns at home for self defense, but feared being prosecuted for gun-control violations. Gura cited two cases where D.C. residents who fired unregistered pistols at home-intruders were not indicted for shooting at the intruders, but for possession of unauthorized firearms.
Mayor Adrian Fenty said in a press release that he strongly opposed the court’s decision.
Tracy Hughes, spokesperson for the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, said that her office would likely request that the case be re-heard by the entire Court of Appeals. The judges will then decide whether to review the ruling. The D.C. government has until April 9 to make the request.
Gura does not believe that the Court of Appeals will decide to reconsider the case, but thinks that, because of the constitutional issues, the Supreme Court is likely to review it.
The central question of the case is whether the Second Amendment is intended to protect states’ right to have armed militias, as argued by District attorneys, or whether it protects the right of individuals to own firearms, as argued by Gura. The Supreme Court has not issued an explicit ruling on the issue.
“It’s a key legal issue,” Hughes said.
The majority opinion, filed by Circuit Justice Laurence Silberman, states that, “There is certainly nothing in [US] history to substantiate the strained reading of the Second Amendment offered by the District.
In the dissenting opinion Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson argues that the Supreme Court established that arms are only protected for militia use in the 1939 case United States v. Miller.
Henderson further argues that, since D.C. is not a state, rights reserved for citizens of states, such as the right to bear arms, do not apply.
“The District is inescapably excluded from the Second Amendment because it is not a state,” the dissenting opinion states.
Officer Junis Fletcher, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department, said that the MPD will continue to enforce the original law until the appeals process is complete.