March 10, 2007


Appeals court guts strict D.C. handgun law (David Nakamura and Robert Barnes, 3/10/07, The Washington Post)

A federal appeals court Friday for the first time overturned a gun-control law by declaring that the Second Amendment grants a person the right to possess firearms.

A three-judge panel from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the capital's 30-year-old ban on keeping handguns in homes is unconstitutional. [...]

Senior Judge Laurence Silberman wrote the majority opinion, also signed by Thomas Griffith. Karen LeCraft Henderson dissented.

"We conclude that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms," Silberman declared in the 58-page majority ruling. [...]

Silberman was nominated to the appellate court by President Reagan and Griffith by President Bush. Henderson was nominated by the current president's father.

Critics long have said the D.C. law is ineffective, noting that the city has had hundreds of homicides in recent years, most committed with handguns. Of last year's 169 homicides, 137 were committed with firearms, D.C. police said. Enforcing the strict handgun ban is difficult with so many guns on the streets, but police last year recovered more than 2,600 guns.

This was not lost on the appeals court. In a footnote, Silberman noted that "the black market for handguns in the District is so strong that handguns are readily available [probably at little premium] to criminals. It is asserted, therefore, that the D.C. gun-control laws irrationally prevent only law-abiding citizens from owning handguns."

Tom Palmer, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who is one of the six plaintiffs who prevailed Friday, said he once used a handgun to ward off potential attackers when he lived in San Jose, Calif. He said the ruling will help residents protect themselves.

"Let's be honest. Although there are many fine officers in the police department, there's a simple test: Call Domino's Pizza or the police and time which one gets there first," Palmer said.

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said, "The only people who have anything to fear from a decision like this are the people who intend to break into someone's home in the middle of the night."

Simply require successful completion of a term of national service as a condition of gun ownership.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 10, 2007 8:25 AM

This is an important development, with political ramifications for '08.

The opinion is worth reading.

The majority opinon adopts most of the pro-RKBA points. The dissent relies on the Miller case, an old NFA case dealing with a sawed-off shotgun, as supporting the collective right theory, which is does not.

For decades, the anti-gun, collective interpretation of the Second Amendment has been dominent in classrooms and in the media. Even in law schools and among lawyers, the textual and historical significance of the Second Amendment has been suppressed. Anyone who dared to suggest that the RKBA applied to the people and not to the National Guard was dismissed as an ignorant yahoo (or wahoo, as the case may be).

This had been in spite of the fact that the individual right, or standard, model of the Second Amendment was most consistent with the way the language of the Constitution is construed regarding the rest of the Bill of Rights.

Gun people are going to be celebrating, and asking whether they are better off than they were eight years ago. Then the matter could hit the Supreme Court just in time for the next election.

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 10, 2007 10:06 AM

"The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." --Thomas Jefferson

"Americans have the right and advantage of being armed -- unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms." -- James Madison

"The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed." -- Alexander Hamilton

"Among other evils which being unarmed brings you, it causes you to be despised." -- Niccolo Machiavelli

Posted by: jd watson at March 10, 2007 12:34 PM

What do you mean by national service? Please enlighten. Military? One has to be qualified. Community? What kind of service does the community require? Should those services be performed by paid workers who need to support their families?

Posted by: ic at March 10, 2007 1:20 PM

Should we also require some form of levy for citizens who insist on exercizing their other Constitutional rights? If you offer a spoken or written opition on a public issue, say, we could charge a $1,000 "Federal Speak Fee" per utterance. Citizens could be required to donate a car or some other big ticket item in exchange for the right not to have government agents kick down the door of their homes and seize their property without cause or compensation. Or we could demand "national service " or some other form of servitude from citizens who want to freely associate, petition their government or not be forced to testify against themselves in a court of law.

Americans are "endowed by our Creator" with certain inaliable rights. The Constitution exists to limit government's authority to take, tamper with or charge us for those rights.

OJ, you of all people should understand that.

Posted by: JonSK at March 10, 2007 1:39 PM

Any Amendment that is conditional should be so read. It's a source of endless amusement that the strict constructionists on the Right start hunting penumbras and emanations with the best of them when it gets to the Second.

Posted by: oj at March 10, 2007 2:34 PM

Compulsory militia service is desirable--a school of the nation; compulsory non-military service, the corvee, other than as punishment for crime, is dishonorable, servile and, of course unconstitutional, under the Thirteenth Amendment. We may not condition rights upon submission to a form of slavery.

All this talk about connecting the RKBA to the organized militia omits an understanding of the statutory and historical meanings of the term. The D.C. Circuit opinion lays this all out, referring to the U.S. Code and to state laws. The unorganized militia includes almost everyone who is not in active military service.

As to the RKBA being "conditional," the majority opinion covers how a fundamental right may be regulated, as the First Amendment right of free speech is regulated by laws of libel and slander.

At the end of this comment, I am off the range to celebrate, by testing some loads for a piece I just picked up for tactical pistol matches.

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 10, 2007 3:28 PM

oj's paraphrasing Heinlein.

Posted by: Gideon at March 10, 2007 4:02 PM


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