Gunning for the District
For some gun advocates, securing the right to keep and bear arms at home wasn't enough.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

IF TOM PALMER and his fellow plaintiffs have their way, they'll soon be carrying loaded handguns through the streets of the nation's capital.

Mr. Palmer, three other individuals and the Second Amendment Foundation sued the District last week, arguing that city laws that "ban registration of handguns to be carried for self-defense by law-abiding citizens" are unconstitutional. Mr. Palmer, a resident of the District, is asking Judge Henry Kennedy of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to strike down the prohibition. The lawsuit also asks Judge Kennedy to nullify laws that prohibit non-District residents from registering their weapons and obtaining handgun carry permits. The plaintiffs are represented by the same lawyer who argued successfully last year before the Supreme Court against District laws that essentially prevented residents from keeping functional firearms at home for self-defense. They now argue that the right to keep and carry firearms for self-defense extends beyond the home and that licensed owners can be prohibited only from carrying handguns into "sensitive places" such as schools or government buildings.

This argument should be rejected as wrong on the law and wrong as a matter of public policy. In the landmark 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, the justices narrowly tailored the decision to recognize an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-protection in the home. Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion, made clear that the decision to strike down the District's law pertaining to guns in the home should not be read to discredit all other gun regulation.

"From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose," Justice Scalia wrote. "For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues."

No right may be exercised without restrictions. Just as there is no First Amendment right to yell "fire" in a crowded theater, neither may the Second Amendment be exercised without serious consideration of public safety. Prohibiting guns in schools, courtrooms and government buildings is a no-brainer. But it also makes no sense from a safety perspective to sanction the carrying of such weapons on city streets, where everyday clashes over a fender bender can suddenly turn deadly if weapons are at hand.

The majority of states have passed laws allowing their citizens to carry weapons in public. It is their sovereign right to adopt such policies, as it must be the District's right to pass laws that make sense for those who live, visit and work in the seat of government. Common sense and constitutionality must not be made mutually exclusive.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company