Plaintiffs Reflect on Gun Ruling

Gillian St. Lawrence of Georgetown owns a shotgun and says the D.C. gun ban doesn't thwart criminals.
Gillian St. Lawrence of Georgetown owns a shotgun and says the D.C. gun ban doesn't thwart criminals. (The Washington Post)
By Elissa Silverman and Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 11, 2007

George Lyon says he wants a gun in his home because it's his constitutional right. Tom Palmer says he used a gun to ward off a beating. And Gillian St. Lawrence says her shotgun is useless because it has to be unloaded and have its trigger locked.

They are among the six city residents who successfully challenged the District's long-standing gun law, winning a major ruling Friday in a case that could reach the Supreme Court. The three men and three women share a strong desire to keep guns legally in their homes in what they say is a violent city.

"We live in a society where having a handgun at home can be the difference between life and death," Palmer said.

D.C. officials contend that easing the gun ban will put citizens at an even higher risk of crime and say they will appeal the decision. An appeal would be likely to delay any change to the law. Officials maintain that the gun law is just as important as when it was enacted 31 years ago. Even with a ban, guns are used in more than 80 percent of the city's homicides, and police are struggling to get them out of the hands of criminals: More than 2,600 were seized last year.

Alan Gura, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, said the residents who brought the suit are just like many District residents who want to feel safe and secure in their homes. They believe the Second Amendment gives them the right to possess a gun for that purpose.

"These are just six average, normal people who come from all walks of life," Gura said. "They just want to have their rights respected by the city."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in their favor Friday with a 2 to 1 vote that found the Second Amendment gives them the right to have handguns in their homes. It was the first major blow to the District's law, which bars all handguns unless they were registered before 1976. The court also struck down a provision requiring registered guns, including shotguns, to be disassembled or bound with trigger locks.

The case drew formidable lineups on both sides, with the National Rifle Association and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence filing court papers. The ruling marked the first time that a federal appeals court has overturned a gun control law by declaring that the Second Amendment grants a person the right to possess a firearm.

Gura declined to say how he assembled the plaintiffs, who came to the case with different backgrounds and motivations.

Some of the plaintiffs grew up with guns in and around their homes and belong to the National Rifle Association. A few are involved with libertarian organizations, including the Cato Institute, which provided legal assistance in the lawsuit.

Lyon, 52, of Adams Morgan, said he kept a pistol in his home when he lived in Virginia and still owns several firearms, which he keeps outside of the city. He moved to the District in 1984.

"Guns are a tool, and they have a use. The use is protection and security," said Lyon, who practices communications law at a firm in Tysons Corner. "The District of Columbia's laws prevent that."

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