Ever since the Supreme Court decided in 2008 that the 2nd Amendment gave law-abiding Americans the right to keep a gun in the home for self-defense , the NRA had been racking up a very impressive series of legal wins in various courtrooms around the country, most recently a decision in California that struck down San Diego’s concealed-carry law as being an infringement of 2nd-Amendment rights. But the music stopped playing last week when the Federal District Court in Washington D.C. upheld the city’s gun registration procedure which had been challenged by the self-same Dick Heller whose lawsuit became the basis for the historic 2nd Amendment decision in 2008.
Anyone who wants to own a gun in DC has to go through a pretty lengthy and cumbersome process, including a detailed background check, followed by a safety and proficiency course, and then is required to submit the actual gun to the police department for inspection and registration, the permit for which must then be renewed every three years. Gun purchases are also rationed, i.e., nobody is permitted to purchase more than one handgun every thirty days. There is no other political jurisdiction in the entire United States, including New York City with its infamous Sullivan Law, that mandates such a comprehensive registration procedure for all firearms, and it was the requirement that long guns be subject to background checks and inspections that, among other procedures, was challenged by Heller in his new lawsuit.
The District Court’s opinion runs more than 60 pages, based largely on testimony by, among others, the DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier, former ATF agents Mark Jones and Joseph Vince, and Dan Webster, who heads the Bloomberg Center for Gun Policy at Johns Hopkins University. The plaintiffs produced testimony from Professor Gary Kleck, a long-time academic supporter of the NRA. I don’t have space to go over every point that was argued in detail, but there was one basic issue that stood out and, not surprisingly, was omitted from a summary of the case posted by the NRA.
The NRA and other pro-gun organizations have consistently argued against any expansion of gun control measures because, according to them, such procedures make it more burdensome for law-abiding citizens to own guns while, on the other hand, criminals will always find a way to get around the law. To quote the Plaintiffs: “Criminals circumvent the process by purchasing guns on the street and bypassing registration altogether.” To which the District Court rejoined: “According to the Plaintiffs, municipalities should be limited to enacting only those firearms regulations that lawbreakers will obey – a curious argument that would render practically any guns laws unconstitutional.”
You got that one right, baby. That’s what it’s all about. The truth is that pro-gun activists don’t want any laws or regulations on firearms, regardless of the intent of the law. On the other hand, it has to be said that most people who want more gun control would just as well see the 2nd Amendment go fly a kite. As future gun litigation rumbles through the legal system, I hope that jurists will be as candid and forthright as was Judge James Boasberg in speaking for the D.C. District Court, because in a debate that has been too clouded with overheated rhetoric and unsupported facts, it’s refreshing to read a legal opinion which clearly points out the basic issue separating the two sides.