D.C. Asks Supreme Court to Back Gun Ban

By Robert Barnes and David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 4, 2007; 12:12 PM

The District today asked the Supreme Court to uphold the city's ban on private ownership of handguns, saying the appeals court decision that overturned the law "drastically departs from the mainstream of American jurisprudence."

Most legal experts believe the court will accept the case, which could lead to a historic decision next year on whether the ambiguously worded Second Amendment to the Constitution protects private gun ownership or only imparts a civic right related to maintaining state militias.

The District argues in its petition for review that its law--one of the toughest handgun bans in the nation--should be upheld regardless of whether the court sides with the so-called "individualist" or "collective" legal theories.

"It is eminently reasonable to permit private ownership of other types of weapons, including shotguns and rifles, but ban the easily concealed and uniquely dangerous modern handgun," states the petition, filed by District Attorney General Linda Singer. It adds: "Whatever right the Second Amendment guarantees, it does not require the District to stand by while its citizens die."

"We're going to fight to uphold a law that . . . has public support," Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said at a news conference outside D.C. police headquarters. "The only possible outcome of more handguns in the home is more violence. Our appeal will help the District of Columbia be able to continue to reduce gun violence."

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit split 2-1 last March in throwing out the District's law, which prohibits handgun ownership except by active and retired law enforcement officers. It also struck down a law requiring that rifles and shotguns kept in private homes be unloaded and disassembled or bound by trigger locks.

The court ruled that the Second Amendment "protects an individual right to keep and bear arms" and that "once it is determined--as we have done--that handguns are 'Arms' referred to in the Second Amendment, it is not open to the District to ban them."

The appeals court acknowledged that its decision was groundbreaking; only one other appeals court--the Fifth Circuit based in New Orleans--has recognized an individual's right to gun ownership, and it nevertheless upheld the federal gun-control law at issue. Nine other circuits around the country have endorsed the "collective" right.

That split is what makes it likely the justices will accept the case, and the lawyers who brought the case on behalf of six District residents who wanted to overturn the gun ban also want the court to take the case.

"We support the court granting [review] and plan on responding very quickly," said attorney Alan Gura, one of the lawyers who brought the case.

Singer said the city expects to hear by November whether the high court will hear the case. The District would be represented in court arguments by Alan B. Morrison, special counsel to Singer's office.

"This is more than an intellectual or ideological argument. It's real," Singer said. "For the residents of the District of Columbia, it's a matter of life and death."

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