Having Toppled D.C. Ban, Man Registers Revolver

By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 19, 2008

Relishing a moment of triumph after a successful, long-running legal battle to end the District's handgun ban, Dick A. Heller strode into D.C. police headquarters yesterday with an unloaded revolver and began registering the weapon so he can keep it in his Capitol Hill home for self-defense.

"It's a great day," declared Heller, 66, a hero to gun rights advocates nationwide for his role in District of Columbia v. Heller, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case decided in his favor last month. Wearing a dark blue necktie adorned with the scales of justice, Heller, a security guard, climbed the steps of the police building on Indiana Avenue NW about 9:15 a.m. with his .22-caliber revolver in a bright red satchel.

"Only in America," he said, smiling.

Moments later, at a reception desk set up in the lobby for gun-registration applicants, Heller unzipped the bag for four police officers at the counter and gingerly handed one of them the weapon: a nine-shot Harrington & Richardson "Longhorn" model with a six-inch barrel, designed in the style of an Old West sidearm.

Heller said he owned the revolver "way before the ban was implemented" 32 years ago. Although the 1976 law barred new handgun registrations, residents who owned revolvers before the ban were allowed to keep them in their homes, unloaded and either disassembled or fitted with trigger locks. They could not be used legally even for self-defense.

Back then, rather than participate in what he considered an unconstitutional process, Heller said, he gave the pistol to a friend in Maryland for safekeeping. So yesterday was a homecoming for the old firearm after more than three decades in storage.

"It's one of my favorites," he said of the blue-steel revolver. "It's like the kind Matt Dillon used to use on 'Gunsmoke.' "

Heller was one of six plaintiffs who sued the District in 2006, saying the city's gun control laws violated the Second Amendment. In a 5 to 4 ruling June 26, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution grants individuals the right to own guns for self-defense. Although the majority opinion said that officials may impose reasonable restrictions, it meant the end of the District's handgun ban.

Five of the plaintiffs were dropped from the case for lack of legal standing, leaving Heller as the only named litigant championing gun rights. To libertarians and firearms enthusiasts, he has become an icon, his victory celebrated on T-shirts and bumper stickers.

"My first reaction is we shouldn't have had to be here in the first place," he said when he had finished the registration-application process and the revolver was back in the satchel by his side. But "it's a great feeling to be returning to a state of normalcy when it comes to being able to defend your life in your household."

Yet even as the court ruling forces a shift in policy regarding firearms ownership in the nation's capital, several legal and regulatory obstacles remain for D.C. residents hoping to purchase handguns and keep them loaded.

With few exceptions, it is not yet possible for a Washingtonian to legally obtain a handgun because there are no licensed dealers in the city (although officials expect there will be eventually). Federal law bars a dealer in one state from selling a pistol to a resident of another state unless the gun is shipped to a dealer in the buyer's home jurisdiction, where the purchaser can take delivery.

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