Tuesday, July 22, 2008

D.C. Ignores Heller

AP-- Washington D.C.- It shouldn’t have come as any surprise that the District of Columbia decided that it can and will continue to all but completely disarm its law-abiding citizens -- not even when it’s less than three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled otherwise.

After all, this is the same D.C. that was home to the most restrictive firearms laws in the country -- until the Court struck them down. The same D.C. that banned its law-abiding citizens from posses sing any handgun. The same D.C. that forced its law-abiding citizens to keep the few firearms they could possess both unloaded and disassembled or locked at all times. In other words, the same D.C. that has disarmed its law-abiding citizens for decades despite achieving the title of “murder capital of the United States” and other dangerously dubious distinctions.

Nevertheless, it’s disheartening -- actually downright disgusting -- that the Mayor, the City Council and the Attorney General of our nation’s capital would flagrantly flout a constitutional decision from the highest court in the land -- not to mention bragging about it to the media. But that’s exactly what happened earlier this week.

On Tuesday, the D.C. City Council unanimously enacted new firearms restrictions on an emergency basis in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, No. 07-290.

Less than three weeks before, the High Court had been perfectly clear that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to “keep and bear Arms” -- declaring two D.C. gun restrictions unconstitutional along the way. In summarizing that ruling, Lyle Denniston -- respected as the “dean of the Supreme Court press corps” -- explained that the justices “struck down a 1976 [D.C.] law so far as it barred possession of handguns in the home for self-defense,” and also “nullified a separate requirement that any gun kept in the home be unloaded and disassembled or have a trigger lock on.”

So how did D.C. change its firearms restrictions to fix their unconstitutionality? Well, they didn’t change much at all.

Sure, the new restrictions don’t contain a per se handgun ban, but they might as well. That’s because most handguns are still banned under the “revised” D.C. law. As the lead attorney who won the landmark Supreme Court ruling commented to the Washington Post: “The semiautomatic ban is clearly unconstitutional. The overwhelming majority of handguns people use in the United States are semiautomatic.”

Indeed, D.C.’s insistence on restricting semiautomatic weapons seems to highlight just how little D.C. lawmakers know and understand about guns, a point also illustrated on the Post’s editorial page. The Post lauded D.C. for continuing such a ban because “an individual’s right to … a firearm for self-defense does not extend to ownership of a gun capable of firing multiple rounds in seconds.” Unfortunately for the Post and others who believe modern semiautomatics are faster and easier to shoot than, say, traditional revolvers, the truth is that both types of guns only fire one shot per trigger pull. But we digress.

Beyond continuing the ban on most handguns, D.C.’s new restrictions make it nearly impossible to get the few handguns that are not banned. As the Post explained in a news story: “Though residents can begin applying for handgun permits this week, city officials have said the entire process could take weeks or months.” And what a process it is, involving “a written exam, proof of residency and good vision,” the Post noted. “Successful applicants must pay a registration fee and agree to fingerprinting and a criminal background check before obtaining a weapon.” Additionally, gun owners must allow D.C. to do ballistics testing on their weapons.

Then there’s the problem of actually purchasing a firearm after jumping all those hurdles. With its well-known hostility toward gun ownership, D.C. isn’t going to make it easy for anyone to sell guns in the District, and gun shops outside the District will face regulations in selling to D.C. residents.

But all of this pales in comparison to the defiance D.C. showed with respect to its requirement that all firearms remain both unloaded and disassembled or locked at all times. The Supreme Court specifically struck down the provision, but that didn’t stop D.C. from leaving it all but intact. The new law continues to require that “[e]ach registrant shall keep any firearm … unloaded and either disassembled or secured by a trigger lock,” just adding a meaningless exception. The exception allows the firearm to be loaded and operational only “while it is being used against a reasonably perceived threat of immediate harm to a person within the registrant’s home.”

D.C.’s Acting Attorney General Peter Nickles explained just how narrow and meaningless this exception really is. As the Post reported, “Nickles said residents could neither keep their guns loaded in anticipation of a problem nor search for an intruder on their property. The porch is off-limits, he said, as well as the yard and any outbuildings.” In other words, law-abiding D.C. citizens might be able to possess a gun, but they can only unlock and load it after they are actually confronting a criminal who won’t be abiding by that same law. So much for having a constitutionally secured right to self-defense.

Don’t get us wrong. We understood D.C. wouldn’t change its ways and protect Second Amendment rights after the Supreme Court had spoken. But the fact that D.C. officials are proud of their continued constitutional insubordination is both deeply troubling and patently offensive. Indeed, virtually every D.C. official involved who could talk to a reporter or get in front of a television camera or radio microphone was ready, willing and able to declare that D.C. would continue the legal fight they had already lost.

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) is a good example. “[B]ecause we really haven’t changed the storage rule from the prior unconstitutional law and because of other features, I do agree that this is a lawsuit waiting to happen,” she told the Post. But, typifying the D.C. party line of dissing the three-week-old Supreme Court decision, “we’ll be ready,” she concluded. Perhaps sometime soon the courts will tell D.C. lawmakers that they need to be concerned with upholding the Constitution rather than disobeying it.

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