Were it not for the fact that the 68 square miles that covers Washington, D.C. wasn’t owned lock, stock and barrel by the Federal Government, most of the decisions reached by the D.C. District Court wouldn’t attract much attention, even when the decisions go up to the United States Court of Appeals. But the gun cases brought by Dick Heller and the NRA aren’t your local, garden-variety of court cases and the D.C. District Court isn’t some town magistrate dealing with whether the town has the right to prohibit overnight parking on all local streets. Nope, the D.C. District Court has been the scene of three separate 2nd Amendment cases whose rulings have become Law of the Land.
The first case brought by Heller – Heller I – went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2008 and resulted in the decision which basically said that the Constitution gave American citizens the right to keep a handgun in their homes for self-defense. The second case – Heller II – was a challenge to the gun registration scheme put into place by the D.C. cops following Heller I, which allowed D.C. residents to purchase and own handguns under conditions that were so onerous and difficult that handgun ownership remained a barely-realizable fact.
As a result of Heller II, the District of Columbia revised its licensing rules, changing certain procedures, eliminating others and adding a few new ones, all of which provoked Heller and his NRA-backed legal team to initiate the action now known as Heller III. This case was decided by the Court of Appeals on September 18, and while the NRA lauded the decision as “bringing gun ownership within reach to more of D.C.’s upstanding residents,” the Appeals Court reaffirmed what I believe are the most fundamental gun-control tenets of all; namely, the right of the government to engage in the practice and policy of regulating guns.
The truth is that the ultimate policy objective of the gun lobby is to completely de-regulate the ownership and use of guns. The NRA can mouth all the pious platitudes in the world about how only ‘law-abiding’ citizens should own guns, but in the name of Constitutional freedom they have attempted to stymie even the most minimal government efforts to keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’ If there even is a gun problem, the response of the gun lobby is to ‘fix’ the mental-health system, a non-sequitur if I ever heard one, or increase penalties for gun crimes, despite the fact that every, single gun used illegally or inappropriately first entered the market through a legal sale. What’s the NRA’s plan for preventing the massive and continuous flow of guns from the good guys to the bad guys? Let every good guy walk around with a gun.
From a pro-gun perspective, the Heller III decision voided some of the DC registration rules which, as far as I’m concerned, weren’t of great value at all. This included dropping the ‘one gun a month’ rule, the re-registration of guns and a requirement that every gun owner pass a test on current DC gun laws. Most importantly, what the decision upheld was the constitutionality of gun registration per se, and perhaps even more important the use of ‘intermediate scrutiny’ for deciding the constitutionality of gun-control laws. Had the Court agreed with the NRA’s argument that the government’s attempt to regulate gun ownership could only be decided on the basis of ‘strict scrutiny,’ i.e., a law is only valid if it fits the exact issue for which it has been designed, you could basically throw out every gun-control statute that has ever been passed.
The Court also upheld the requirement that D.C. gun owners must take an online course in gun safety which I took while I ate breakfast, paid some bills and watched Morning Joe. If the gun-control community thinks they won a partial victory because the Court upheld this part of the D.C. law they should think again. Affirming the government’s right to control firearms is one thing; affirming a silly and useless gun regulation is something else.