Bill Steigerwald

Fans of gun rights and scholarly defenders of the U.S. Constitution alike were left pleased and optimistic by what they heard U.S. Supreme Court justices say March 18 during oral arguments for a case challenging Washington, D.C.'s, sweeping, super-strict gun law. The plaintiff in District of Columbia v. Heller argues that D.C.'s ban -- which essentially makes it illegal for private citizens to own handguns at all or possess rifles that are assembled or unlocked and ready to use -- violates the Second Amendment.

Robert Levy of the Cato Institute agrees. The senior fellow in constitutional studies at the libertarian think tank spent a lot of his own money and five years of legal plotting to make sure Heller -- the first Second Amendment case heard by the Supreme Court since 1939 -- made it to the high court. I talked to Levy March 20 by telephone from his home in Naples, Fla.:

Q: What's your quick description of what District of Columbia v. Heller is all about?

A: It's all about self-defense. It's about six plaintiffs originally -- and now down to one -- who feel at risk in the dangerous community of Washington, D.C., and they want to be able to defend themselves in their own homes. Washington, D.C., law says that they can't do that. There's an outright ban on all functional firearms, in all homes, at all times, for all people. And these folks have both a need to defend themselves and a constitutional right to defend themselves.

Q: You played a very active role in getting this issue -- and this specific case -- to the Supreme Court. Why and how?

A: Well, for about a decade I’ve been the senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute. I’ve been interested in a large number of constitutional issues, one of which -- maybe not even the issue I’ve spent the most time on -- is the Second Amendment.

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..