District’s Post-Heller Gun Laws Are OK, Judge Says
UPDATED 5:22 P.M.
Gun restrictions passed by District lawmakers in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2008 Heller v. District of Columbia decision are constitutional, a federal trial judge has ruled.
The plaintiffs—which include Dick Heller, the retired security guard whose name tops the landmark case—challenged the constitutionality of city laws implementing a registration process and restricting assault weapons and extended magazines.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina did not buy what they were selling. In a decision handed down today [PDF], Urbina roundly rejected their arguments and granted summary judgment to the city.
"While the Court recognized [in Heller] that the Second Amendment protects a natural right of an individual to keep and bear arms in the home in defense of self, family and property, it cautioned that that right is not unlimited," Urbina wrote.
That said, Urbina added that "no clear directive is contained in the Heller decision itself" as to what standard of legal scrutiny gun laws should be subjected to vis-a-vis the Heller-defined "right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home."
In the case of gun registration, Urbina found that that part of the law does indeed infringe upon the right to use guns in "defense of hearth and home," but he found that registration furthered a "important governmental interest." Citing deeply from the committee report prepared by the D.C. Council's judiciary panel, Urbina writes that "the Council provided ample evidence of the ways in which the registration requirements will effectuate the goal of promoting public safety."
Plaintiffs' arguments that the Supreme Court meant to legalize assault weapons and large ammo magazines didn't even get that far. "The plaintiffs assert that requiring an individual to pause to reload a firearm after discharging ten rounds of ammunition, like the invalidated trigger lock regulation, 'makes it impossible for citizens to use [firearms] for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional,'" Urbina writes. "This argument borders on the absurd."
Again, Urbina paid deference to city lawmakers: "The Council held extensive hearings and heard from numerous witnesses on both sides of the gun control divide before determining that assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices constitute weapons that are not in common use, are not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes and are 'dangerous and unusual,'" Urbina writes. "The court does not see fit to override that decision."
UPDATE, 3:25 P.M.: At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who shepherded the gun bill through the council, reacts: "I'm pleased with the decision. I am pleased that the court recognized recognized the public safety implications of this gun-control debate."
Mendelson says he expects ongoing appeals from the Heller plaintiffs. "Their scheme all along has been to strike down gun control. They would have virtually no gun control, and by virtually, I mean maybe they'd not allow bazookas. That doesn't lead to a safe society, particularly the nation's capital."
In a release, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence also lauded the decision: "Once again, the courts have rejected the gun lobby’s attempt to transform the core right to guns in the home for self-defense into a mandate for their ‘any gun, anywhere’ agenda," says the release.
UPDATE, 5 P.M.: Stephen P. Halbrook, the attorney for the Heller plaintiffs and a veteran of 2nd Amendment cases, says an appeal is "highly likely."
Halbrook takes issue with two aspects of Urbina's decision: First, his decision to apply a standard of review to the new D.C. laws that is "inconsistent with the original Heller decision by the Supreme Court." Second, he says, is that Urbina over-relied on the D.C. Council's committee report and "simply ignored the evidence we presented" challenging its findings.
The case would head to a three-judge panel of the District's federal appeals court. Lurking in the background is the possibility that another Supreme Court case, McDonald v. City of Chicago, could further define the limits of constitutional gun regulation. That case was argued earlier this month, and a decision is almost certain to be handed down by the time Urbina's decision is reviewed.
UPDATE, 5:22 P.M.: Attorney General Peter Nickles offered the following statement: "I am gratified that the Court repeatedly recognized the reasonable and conscientious efforts that the Council and the Mayor made to strike the proper balance between addressing the legitimate rights of firearm owners, and taking every reasonable action to assure the safety of the District’s residents and visitors."
His boss, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, said, "Today’s ruling affirms our efforts to ensure the highest possible standards of safety for District residents."