A Persistent Threat to Second Amendment Rights

Posted: Jul 21, 2008 12:21 PM
A Persistent Threat to Second Amendment Rights

In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that the District of Columbia's highly restrictive ban on guns is unconstitutional. The ruling was anticipated across the nation. It was the first time the Court made a direct judgment about the right of individuals to keep and bear arms since the adoption of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. One would think that under these circumstances the D.C. government would get the message. Not a chance. The Washington D.C. City Council lives in its own world.

In a unanimous vote, the Council refused to repeal the handgun ban. Instead, it created a new exception under which the handgun ban does not apply to a person who seeks to register a pistol for use in self-defense in the home. According to the National Rifle Association (NRA), D.C. still forbids its residents to own a handgun for protection of a business, for sport shooting, and for other lawful purposes for which citizens own guns everywhere else in the country.

One of the items the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional was the requirement that guns have a trigger lock because such locks bar the use of a firearm for self-defense in the home. So what does the post-Heller D.C. Council do? It permits the gun to be assembled, loaded, and unlocked only "while it is being used." I guess the only lawful way to put the gun together, load it, and unlock the trigger is if someone breaks in and points a gun at the victim. But what if the intruder shoots first? What if the victim does not have time to put the gun together for use? This is utter nonsense.

The Attorney General for the District anticipates lawsuits about this new ordinance. I certainly hope so. The Supreme Court said it is unconstitutional to ban a whole class of weapons which overwhelmingly is chosen by Americans for lawful self-defense. But the Council has outlawed, through its new definition, virtually all semi-automatic handguns, which comprise about 75% of all handguns sold in the United States in the past twenty years.

The D.C. City Council has imposed a very burdensome system of gun registration. Only a handful of states have any registration and none has a system as complicated as that of the District. There is a solution to this tyranny. Congress can pass H.R. 1399, the "District of Columbia Personal Protection Act." The bill, which is supported by the NRA and has 247 co-sponsors, would repeal the D.C. handgun ban and the storage requirement which prohibits keeping a firearm ready for self-defense in the home, two of the provisions found to be unconstitutional in the Heller decision. Moreover, it would repeal the D.C. registration system, which is burdensome in its own right and serves as a vehicle for even more restrictions and skewed definitions. H.R. 1399 would restrict the D.C. Council's authority to impose undue restrictions upon residents' Second Amendment right. It also would repeal the ban upon semi-automatic firearms, conforming the District's law to federal legislation. It would repeal various restrictions on ammunition and the District's "Strict Liability Act," which allows manufacturers of certain types of guns "to be held strictly liable in tort, without regard to fault or proof of defect."

The problem is that time is short in this Congress. There may be enough time for a discharge petition to bring the bill to the floor of the House of Representatives. But in the Senate 60 votes are needed to move anything. The NRA vote count currently stands at 55. The leadership in both chambers opposes H.R. 1399. The NRA wants it passed while there is still a President in office who will sign it. Unfortunately, it appears as if the courts, rather than the legislature, will have the last word on the D.C. legislation. That is not how it should be.