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Monday, July 16, 2007

Second Amendment Case Headed to Court

Lyle Denniston
SCOTUSBLOG

Local government officials in Washington, D.C., announced Monday they will appeal to the Supreme Court in a major test case on the meaning of the Second Amendment. The key issue in the coming petition will be whether the Amendment protects an individual right to have guns in one's home -- an issue on which there is now a clear conflict among federal Circuit Courts. The city will be defending the constitutionality of a local handgun control law that is regarded as the strictest in the nation.

The petition would have been due Aug. 7, but city officials said Monday that they would ask Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., for a 30-day extension of time to file the case. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and city Attorney General Linda Singer disclosed the appeal plan at a press conference, along with local Police Chief Cathy Lanier. The Mayor said: "We have made the determination that this law can and should be defended and we are willing to take our case to the highest court in the land to protect the city's residents. Our handgun law has saved countless lives -- keeping guns out of the hands of those who would hurt others or themselves."

The D.C. Circuit Court ruled on March 9 that the Second Amendment does guarantee an individual right to possess a gun -- at least within one's own home. The ruling was the first by a federal appeals court to strike down a gun control law based on that view of the Amendment's reach. The case is Parker, et al., v. District of Columbia (Circuit docket 04-7041). On May 8, the Circuit Court refused by a 6-4 vote to rehear the case en banc. The mandate is scheduled to be issued Aug. 7, but will be withheld after the city files its Supreme Court petition. Thus, the existing gun law would remain in effect temporarily.

In an earlier filling in the D.C. Circuit, city officials said their appeal to the Supreme Court would present some variation of these questions: "(1) whether the panel majority's decision conflicts with the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939), as Judge [Karen LeCraft] Henderson concluded in dissenting from the panel majority's decision; (2) whether the Second Amendment protects firearms possession or use that is not associated with service in a State militia; (3) whether the Amendment applies differently to the District because of its constitutional status, as Judge Henderson also concluded; and (4) whether the challenged laws represent reasonable regulation of whatever rights the Amendment protects." The city noted that the panel had acknowledged that its ruling conflicts with decisions "of most other federal courts of appeals, many State courts, and the highest local court in this jurisdiction, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals."

The Circuit Court majority found that one of the six Washington residents who filed the challenge to the local gun control law had a right to bring the lawsuit. That individual is Dick Anthony Heller, a special police officer who works at the Federal Judicial Center (home of the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts) near Capitol Hill in Washington. He is licensed to carry a handgun on his job, but he applied for permission to have a pistol in his home; he was denied a license under the local law. Heller has said in court papers that he lives in a high-crime neighborhood in the city.

Heller, according to the Circuit Court, had standing to sue to challenge the gun registration provisions of the local law, as well as the clause that bars anyone from carrying a pistol without a license and a provision requiring all owners of licensed guns to keep them disassembled or with a trigger lock engaged when not in use.

The D.C. law has been in effect for nearly 31 years -- since September 1976. The lawsuit to strike it down was filed in February 2003.



If SCOTUS refuses to hear this case, the Appeals Court ruling will stand, for the DC District.

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