The District Appeals

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

RARELY HAVE so few words provoked such fervent disagreement: "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." More than 200 years after the founders crafted the Second Amendment, debate rages about what those 27 words mean. Do they guarantee an individual right to bear arms and thus forbid most gun control? Or do they only protect a state's right to form and maintain a militia and therefore allow weapons regulation?

The Supreme Court, which has not ruled on such a critical a gun rights case since 1939, should finally answer the question by taking up the appeal filed yesterday by the District. The appeal asks the justices to overturn a March decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that struck down as unconstitutional the District's handgun ban and its regulations that require long guns to be stored disassembled and unloaded. We support the appeal on legal and public policy grounds.

The D.C. Circuit's conclusion that the Second Amendment recognizes an individual right to bear arms is at odds with nine of the federal appeals courts to have formally weighed in on the question; it also contradicts the holding of the D.C. Court of Appeals, the highest "local" court in the District. The justices should step in to resolve this so-called circuit split and articulate a uniform, nationwide interpretation of the amendment.

Even if the amendment is read to bestow an individual right to bear arms, we believe that the law and public policy prerogatives allow for reasonable regulation. After all, virtually every other right guaranteed by the Constitution, including free speech, is subject to some limitation. And countless law enforcement officers and public officials have testified about the importance of gun control laws in limiting violent crime.

The justices may feel uncomfortable articulating national standards by ruling on a case out of the District -- an admittedly peculiar jurisdictional beast. In that case, we would hope that they at least rule narrowly to resolve the conflict between the D.C. Circuit and D.C. Court of Appeals. The residents of the District deserve that much at a minimum.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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