D.C.'s Ban On Handguns In Homes Is Thrown Out
Saturday, March 10, 2007
A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that the District's longtime ban on keeping handguns in homes is unconstitutional.
The 2 to 1 decision by an appellate panel outraged D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and other city leaders, who said that they will appeal and that gun-related crimes could rise if the ruling takes effect. The outcome elated opponents of strict gun controls because it knocked down one of the toughest laws in the country and vindicated their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution's language on the right to bear arms.
The panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit became the nation's first federal appeals court to overturn a gun-control law by declaring that the Second Amendment grants a person the right to possess firearms. One other circuit shares that viewpoint on individual rights, but others across the country say the protection that the Second Amendment offers relates to states being able to maintain a militia. Legal experts said the conflict could lead to the first Supreme Court review of the issue in nearly 70 years.
The District's law bars all handguns unless they were registered before 1976; it was passed that year to try to curb gun violence, but it has come under attack during the past three decades in Congress and in the courts. Yesterday's ruling guts key parts of the law but does not address provisions that effectively bar private citizens from carrying guns outside the home.
Fenty (D) said the city is committed to pursuing additional appeals, adding: "I am personally deeply disappointed and frankly outraged by this decision. It flies in the face of laws that have helped decrease gun violence in the District of Columbia."
City attorneys said that it would take at least 30 days for the court's decision to go into effect, during which time the District probably will file its appeal. During an appeal, which could last more than a year, the current law would remain in effect, the lawyers said.
Fenty said city officials will "do everything in our power to work to get the decision overturned, and we will vigorously enforce our handgun laws during that time."
The ruling was the latest development in four years of litigation waged by six D.C. residents who said they wanted to keep guns in their homes for self-defense. Alan Gura, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said, "This is a tremendous victory for the civil rights of all Americans."
Senior Judge Laurence H. Silberman wrote the majority opinion, also signed by Thomas B. Griffith. Karen LeCraft Henderson dissented. All three were appointed by Republican presidents.
"We conclude that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms," Silberman said in the 58-page majority ruling.
The residents filed their lawsuit -- Parker v. the District of Columbia-- months after then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft declared that gun bans violate the Second Amendment. They were aided by the Cato Institute, a nonprofit group that advocates personal liberties.
The suit said the ban on handgun ownership violates the Second Amendment, which states: "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."