Congress Urged to Move Carefully on DC Gun Ban
Congress Urged to Move Carefully on DC Gun Ban
Cybercast News Service ^ | 3/23/07 | Randy Hall
Attempts by "well-meaning members of Congress" to repeal the 1976 Washington, D.C., gun ban could backfire by keeping the case out of the U.S. Supreme Court, said attorneys representing six D.C. residents in a high-profile Second Amendment case.
"We appreciate that the Second Amendment's many friends in Congress want to express themselves on the D.C. gun ban, and there are ways in which Congress can have a tremendously positive impact," said Alan Gura, lead counsel in Parker v. District of Columbia, which challenged the 1976 D.C. gun ban.
But "Congress has to act very carefully," Gura told Cybercast News Service after a panel discussion of the case.
"A congressional repeal of the D.C. gun ban right now could erase the recent court victory," he said, referring to the March 9 ruling by U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that said the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms.
"All of our hard work would be wasted," Gura warned.
"We have to work with the members of Congress to make sure that if they want to express themselves legislatively on the D.C. gun ban, they can do so in a way that preserves the issue for litigation, Gura said.
Second Amendment supporters have waited many years for the right case to bring before the U.S. Supreme Court. Their goal is for the highest court in the land to interpret the Second Amendment in a way that reinforces the constitutional right of individuals to own guns.
Gura said Congress can "implement the Parker decision without killing it" by allowing interstate handgun sales and forcing the District to accept normal instant background checks.
Robert Levy, co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the case, noted that Parker v. District of Columbia "considered the question that has divided Second Amendment scholars for decades: Does the right to keep and bear arms belong to us as individuals or does the Constitution merely recognize the collective right of the states to arm their militias?"
Levy, who is also senior fellow in constitutional studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, stated that the "D.C. government has been totally ineffective at disarming violent criminals, but at the same time, the government has done a superb job of disarming decent and peaceful residents."
Noting that he and Gura represent "six plaintiffs who live in the District, pay their taxes in the District and obey the laws in the District," Levy stated that "D.C. says if somebody breaks into their house, their only way to obtain remedy is to call 911 and hope that the police arrive on time."
"That's not a good enough remedy," he added. "The right to keep and bear arms includes, of course, the right to defend your property and your family, and most of all, your life.
"There have been more than three dozen challenges to the D.C. ban," Levy said, but "mostly, they've been filed by criminals who are serving longer sentences for gun possession."
Gura agreed that "the history of Second Amendment litigation brought by criminals is very poor compared to what we have achieved. The question is not whether the Supreme Court will decide the issue, but whether it will do so with our case -- or the next common criminal who's presenting the Second Amendment in an unfavorable light."
"It's sad, I think, for us to have a basic, fundamental right defined within the lens and context of a criminal proceeding," Gura added.
'The Constitution is on our side'
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's decision on Friday, March 9. Senior Judge Laurence Silberman and Judge Thomas Griffith stated in their opinion: "The Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms."
"We could not have asked for a more unequivocal and explicit statement," Levy declared. "The Constitution is on our side."
Looking to the future, Gura said he expects the District of Columbia to ask for review of the case by the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. "We're not super concerned about this being overturned by the full court, and of course, we're fairly confident and hopeful that the Supreme Court can read the Constitution as well," he noted.
Levy added that those involved in the case "want the problem to be solved nationwide," another reason they are against Congress repealing the gun ban in the nation's capital. "That would do nothing outside of Washington, D.C.," he said.
Gura noted that he and Levy "have been spending a lot of time on the Hill meeting with people" about the need for careful action by Congress, "and we think the message is getting through."
Gura said that he and Levy met on Thursday with leaders from the National Rifle Association, "which had been pushing this legislation" to eliminate the D.C. gun ban, but "we believe that they've seen the light. They've given us their assurances that they are not interested in ruining the case."
"And [NRA President] Wayne LaPierre told us we can take that to the bank," Gura said.
However, "the anti-gun people are a different story," he stated. "We have gotten word that at least one group is now trying to push for a legislative appeal because, frankly, they don't want this in the Supreme Court, and the reason they don't want this in the Supreme Court is because they're going to lose."
But the optimism expressed by Gura and Levy on Thursday apparently didn't extend to Capitol Hill, where Democrats sidelined a bill that would have granted the District of Columbia voting rights in the House of Representatives because it contained a measure repealing the D.C. gun ban.
Instead of moving ahead, Democrats indefinitely postponed a vote on the entire package. Supporters of D.C. voting rights accused Republicans of injecting a poison pill (the D.C. gun ban) into the legislation.
Levy had some advice for Americans who believe that an outright gun ban is necessary for public safety. "The way to go about that is to change the Constitution. We cannot simply ignore the Constitutional provision and act as though the document does not exist.
"As a nation, we have chosen to have a written Constitution, and it has served us well for more than two centuries," he added.