Misreading a Landmark Gun Case

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The March 10 editorial "Dangerous Ruling" -- decrying the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit requiring the District to respect Second Amendment rights -- rested on a mistaken view of the Supreme Court's 1939 decision in United States v. Miller. The Supreme Court characterized the "militia" as ordinary citizens "bearing arms supplied by themselves."

The court never questioned that Jack Miller enjoyed an individual right to arms. The court asked only whether a sawed-off shotgun was a type of gun whose possession was guaranteed to Mr. Miller by the Second Amendment.

Less forgivable is Erwin Chemerinsky's argument that a law can be constitutional if it "reasonably" forbids the exercise of a constitutional right ["A Well-Regulated Right to Bear Arms," op-ed, March 14].

Laws infringing upon rights specifically mentioned in the Constitution are presumptively invalid. Moreover, there cannot both be a right to do something and an absolute prohibition on the exercise of that right. The government can no more ban handguns across-the-board than it can ban all religion, even if it believes doing so would be desirable.

Finally, there is the creative use of statistics by Cathy Lanier, acting chief of the Metropolitan Police Department, and Vincent Schiraldi, director of D.C.'s Youth Rehabilitation Services, in their March 15 op-ed, "Give Us Back Our Gun Law." They attributed drops in the number of District juveniles arrested for homicide to restrictions imposed on law-abiding citizens elsewhere. But correlation is not causation. A better explanation is the police department's embarrassingly shrinking homicide closure rate. The rate of violent crime in the District has only recently declined to pre-ban levels.



The writer is lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the D.C. gun-ban case, Parker v. District of Columbia.

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