Keep the District’s gun ban alive

November 8, 2007

This Friday, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to hear Mayor Adrian Fenty’s (D) appeal to overturn a March ruling that declared D.C.’s handgun ban unconstitutional. If the Court chooses not to take the case, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ March decision will stand, and the gun ban will be dead. The Supreme Court should take Fenty’s case and uphold the constitutionality of the District’s gun ban.

The March ruling “marked the first time that a federal appeals court has struck down a gun regulation on the grounds that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s rights to bear arms,” according to a press release from the Mayor’s Office. The 1939 case United States v. Miller, the Court decided unanimously that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to ensure that a militia is properly armed. Because the 1939 ruling tied the right to bear arms to their use in a militia, it did not explicitly guarantee an individual right to bear arms.

According to Georgetown Law Professor Michael Seidman, “the issue mostly turns on how strongly to take the first clause of the amendment which talks about the well-regulated militia and whether or that operates on the following clause [regarding the right of the people to bear arms].” Rather than focusing on the intricacies of the Second Amendment, though, Fenty’s appeal relies on the argument that the Second Amendment should not apply to the District at all, as the 1886 Supreme Court case Presser v. Illinois ruled that the Second Amendment does not apply to the state regulation of gun possession and use.

The D.C. Circuit Court’s decision on the handgun ban not only contradicts the precedent set by United States v. Miller, it endangers the lives of the District’s citizens.

The District City Council has banned handguns since 1976, and Fenty’s appeal states that the city has been regulating handguns since 1858, when Congress still had to legislate D.C.’s laws.

“Although only a third of the nation’s firearms are handguns,” Fenty and D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer wrote in The Washington Post, “these easily concealable weapons are used in far more killings, woundings and crimes than all other types of firearms combined.”

The New England Journal of Medicine has reported that handgun possession positively correlates with increased homicide risk. The self-defense argument cannot override the fact that guns create more danger than they prevent. Given the grave danger that handguns pose, along with the fact that the Second Amendment should not guarantee a blanket right to bear arms, the Supreme Court would do a great disservice to the District by refusing to hear this case.

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