By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 27, 2010; B01
A federal judge on Friday upheld the gun laws that the District of Columbia passed to comply with the landmark 2008 Supreme Court ruling that struck down the city's decades-old ban on handgun possession.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina found that the new regulations were crafted to make the streets safer and aren't so restrictive that they violate the Second Amendment guarantee of a person's right to own a gun for self-defense.
"It is beyond dispute that public safety is an important -- indeed, a compelling -- governmental interest," Urbina wrote.
The judge ruled that the District's handgun registration process, which requires owners to submit fingerprints and allow police to perform ballistics tests, is constitutional. He also upheld a city ban on most semiautomatic pistols.
D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, said the ruling shows the District reached the correct balance between the rights of residents and the need to promote public safety.
"The police remove an awful lot of firearms from the streets every year that are unregistered and owned by criminals, members of gangs and people who rob other folks or shoot other folks," Mendelson said. "Because law-abiding citizens register their guns, it makes it easier for the police to identify and arrest the criminals."
In June 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court knocked down the District's long-standing ban on handgun possession. The court concluded that the Second Amendment grants individuals the right to possess guns for self-defense but said governments may impose reasonable restrictions.
District officials responded by imposing regulations that officials said fit within the high court's ruling.
The city requires that legally registered revolvers be kept unloaded and either disassembled or secured with trigger locks, unless the owner reasonably fears immediate harm by an intruder in the home. Each resident can register one pistol a month, and registrations expire after three years.
Dick A. Heller, who successfully challenged the handgun ban, filed a second federal lawsuit alleging the new regulations were too restrictive and burdensome. He asked the court to toss out the laws.
Heller's attorney, Stephen P. Halbrook, said it is "highly likely" his client will appeal the decision. Halbrook said Urbina "uncritically accepted" the government's position and "simply ignored our evidence."
"We've got one Supreme Court decision, and we think the correct way to apply that decision would have been to invalidate these laws," Halbrook said. Heller could not be reached immediately for comment.
In the 30-page opinion, Urbina said that the regulations aren't unduly burdensome and that the city provided "ample evidence of the ways" the registration requirements are intended to promote public safety. He noted, for instance, that authorities said the required ballistics tests will help them link bullets and shell casings found at crime scenes to the weapons used to fire them.
D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said the ruling "shows that we can have strong gun regulations and still comply with the Supreme Court's recognition of an individual right to have handguns for self-defense."
Staff writer Tim Craig and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.