Fenty Expresses Dismay at Ruling on Guns

The Mayor, Police Chief, Attorney General and former acting U.S. solicitor general respond to the justices' 5-4 ruling striking down D.C.'s ban on handguns as incompatible with gun rights under the Second Amendment.Video by David Nakamura/The Washington Post
By David Nakamura and Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 26, 2008; 4:42 PM

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty expressed disappointment today with the Supreme Court's decision striking down the city's gun law, warning that, "More handguns will lead to more handgun violence."

At a news conference two hours after the court overturned the city's ban on handguns, Fenty (D) said he viewed today's ruling as narrowly tailored to guns in the home and not on the street, emphasizing that the city can still bar handguns from being carried outside of the home.

The District now must create new regulations detailing the process for registering handguns, which the Supreme Court said can be kept in homes for self-defense. The city has regulations already on the books, which have been largely moot because of the gun ban, but those rules likely will be updated and revised, officials said.

Fenty said the city's police department will take 21 days to develop the requirements for registering a handgun in the District.

Standing on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building, the mayor added that he believes he speaks for District residents in saying, "We are disappointed in the ruling. We wish it had gone the other way, but we respect the court's" decision.

In a 5-to-4 opinion -- the final ruling issued by the justices this term -- the court held that the Second Amendment grants individuals the right to own guns for self-defense. It rejected arguments from the District and others that the Second Amendment was limited to conferring a collective right for states to form militias.

The District's law, passed during a crime wave in 1976, was widely viewed as the most restrictive in the country, and the court struck down its key provisions. The ruling comes at a time when police are trying to curb violence in many neighborhoods, including the Trinidad section of Northeast Washington, where they recently ran a checkpoint of motorists. The city has had 85 homicides so far this year, one less than at the same point in 207.

Under the 1976 law, residents who owned handguns before the ban took effect were required to keep their weapons in their homes. Ownership of registered rifles and shotguns was permitted, but those guns were to be kept in homes, unloaded and either disassembled or fitted with trigger locks.

In the majority opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court stressed the importance of the right to own guns as a means of self-defense. The opinion said the handgun ban violated the Second Amendment, and said that the restrictions on other weapons in the homes, rendering them inoperable, also went beyond legal boundaries.

The challenge to the ban was filed in 2003 on behalf of six District residents, one of whom was deemed to have legal standing. That plaintiff is Dick A. Heller, a security guard who lives on Capitol Hill. The Supreme Court cleared the way for him to register his handgun and obtain a license to carry it in the home.

Outside the courthouse, Heller said that he planned to seek his permit "very soon."

Alan Gura, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs on the case, said the question now becomes which types of restrictions can be imposed without crossing the line into unreasonable limits.

"It's a great day for the city of Washington and for all law-abiding Americans . . . The court today did its duty by striking down legislation that interfered with individual liberties," Gura said. "That's why we have a Supreme Court."

Reaction was swift from all sides of the gun debate in a case that had been closely watched across the nation.

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a group favoring tighter firearms controls, said that the ruling was "quite clearly" a defeat for the organization's legal position. But, he said, there was a silver lining. Although the majority opinion says that handguns can't be banned, it does allow governments to impose restrictions on ownership, Helmke said. He contended that the decision carved out the extremes in the debate over gun rights.

"This takes off the idea that you can have a near-total ban on guns, especially guns for self-defense," Helmke said. "We haven't really pushed that . . . The gun lobby, however, has been trying to say that any step in the common sense direction is part of the slippery slope toward confiscation. In effect, [the Supreme Court] has taken that slippery slope away, and that's where the ruling actually could be a benefit politically to folks who are fighting for common sense gun control."

The National Rifle Association hailed the ruling as "a great moment in American history." Wayne LaPierre, the group's executive vice president, said the decision "vindicates individual Americans all over this country who have always known that this is their freedom worth protecting."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company