Braving Cold, Chants, Students Flock to Hear Gun Case

People began lining up outside the Supreme Court Sunday night to receive one of the 75 tickets to watch the hearings held Tuesday on whether to overturn D.C.'s hand gun ban.Video: Amy Kovac/washingtonpost.comEditor: Jacqueline Refo/washingtonpost.comRead Related Story
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 19, 2008

They came at midnight, six Georgetown University students with the bare essentials for a night in front of the Supreme Court: Sleeping bags. Pretzels. Malted milk balls.

"I've been thinking about this case for weeks," confided Jennifer Dixon, 19, a government major from Royal Oak, Mich., referring to the landmark arguments on the legality of the D.C. gun ban.

But Dixon found 83 people in line for the few seats available for the full proceeding. So, like most spectators, she and her friends were allowed in yesterday for just three minutes of the arguments before being ushered out.

Still, it was worth it, the students said.

"This is a huge case," said Matt Shapiro, 18, of Richmond, who belongs to Georgetown's Supreme Court society with the other students. "We had to come see it."

The D.C. gun case, the Supreme Court's long-awaited examination of the reach of the Second Amendment, turned the steps and sidewalk in front of the ornate building into a theater of lively debate on citizens' rights to own firearms.

The D.C. government leadership turned out in force. So did chanting activists on both sides of the issue and hundreds of shivering tourists and sleep-starved students anxious to glimpse history.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) emerged from the morning arguments with a message once again proclaiming the importance of the 1976 gun law, one of the strictest in the country. "This is a public safety case," he declared.

Facing a throng of reporters on the steps, he said, "More guns anywhere in the District of Columbia is going to lead to more crime."

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, Interim D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) followed him to the microphones, saying that it was reasonable for the city to ban handguns, because they can be easily concealed and taken into schools, buses and other locations.

A few minutes later, a gray-haired man in a parka stepped to the microphones, wearing a blue tie decorated with the scales of justice. It was Dick Anthony Heller, 66, the security guard who challenged the law, the man behind District of Columbia v. Heller.

"A basic issue of our constitutional rights to life and self-defense has been violated," said Heller, a Capitol Hill resident, flanked by his attorneys. "As a security officer, I carry a gun to protect government offices. But my life isn't worth protecting at home, in their eyes."

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