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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)

Palmer, 50, said that his gun rescued him 25 years ago when he was approached by a group of men in San Jose. Palmer, who is gay, said he believed the men were targeting him because of his sexual orientation. He said he and a friend started to run away, but then he took action.

"I turned around and showed them the business side of my gun and told them if they took another step, I'd shoot," he said, adding that that ended the confrontation.

Palmer moved to the District in 1975 and lives in the U Street NW corridor, where police have struggled lately to curb assaults and other crimes. He said he considers it a fairly safe neighborhood, although his home was broken into once. He works as director of educational programs for the Cato Institute and travels to war-torn countries including Iraq.

He keeps a shotgun and several pistols stored in Colorado and Virginia. Guns have been used in his family for generations. "My mother always had two, and she kept one under her bed," Palmer said.

St. Lawrence, 28, said that crime is on the rise in her Georgetown neighborhood and that criminals don't worry about violating the District's gun ban. "We have no way to defend ourselves," she said.

A mortgage broker who was raised in a military family, St. Lawrence owns a shotgun, which she bought in Virginia. She said it sat at the store for two years while she went through the city's lengthy permit process. Abiding by District law, she said she keeps it unloaded and bound by a trigger lock in her home.

When she learned about the lawsuit through the Institute for Justice, a libertarian group, she said she was happy to join. "We have a Second Amendment; we should be able to rely on it," she said.

The court ruling hinged on 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."

The District said the amendment applies solely to militias -- a position endorsed in the past by all but one of the nation's federal appeals courts. But the D.C. appeals panel said it covered individual rights of people who own guns for other purposes, such as hunting or self-defense. The Supreme Court has not taken up the issue since 1939.

Plaintiff Shelly Parker said in the lawsuit that she wanted a gun to ward off drug dealers in Northeast Washington. Tracey Ambeau also said she wanted a gun for self-defense for her home in Northwest. Neither could be reached for comment.

Dick Heller, 65, said he became involved in the firearms debate in 1997 after he read a news story about a burglary in the District in which the homeowner shot the intruder -- and the homeowner was charged with a crime.

"That's what made us really livid," said Heller, who lives with his wife in Capitol Hill. "After that, I knew we had to be proactive."

Heller's decision to join the lawsuit proved fortuitous for the pro-gun contingent. The appeals court ruled that he was the only plaintiff with legal standing because he attempted to register a handgun in the District and was turned away.

When the suit was filed in 2003, Heller worked as a special police officer providing security at a federal court building near Union Station. He said he found it insulting that he could not bring his gun home.

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