DC thumbs its nose at Heller

DC is set to pass a new gun law in response to Heller:

The District of Columbia Council planned to vote Tuesday on emergency legislation to allow handguns, but only if they are used for self-defense in the home and carry fewer than 12 rounds of ammunition.

The legislation announced Monday comes as officials try to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month striking down the city’s 32-year-old weapons ban.

The proposal, which maintains some of the city’s strict gun ownership rules and adds more regulations, was immediately criticized by gun rights advocates. They threatened more legal action.

The nation’s capital would still require all legal firearms — including handguns, rifles and shotguns — to be kept in the home unloaded and disassembled, or equipped with trigger locks. There would be an exception for guns used against the “reasonably perceived threat of immediate harm.”

The proposed legislation also maintains the city’s unusual ban of machine guns, defined as weapons that shoot at least 12 rounds without reloading. That applies to most semiautomatic firearms.

“We have crafted what I believe to be a model for the nation in terms of complying with the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decision and at the same time protecting our citizens,” interim Attorney General Peter Nickles said.

The new law would comply with the extremely narrow relief requested by and granted to the plaintiff in Heller. But, it certainly does not comply the Constitutional requirements set down by Heller. First, there is the Court’s interpretation of “bear arms”:

At the time of the founding, as now, to “bear” meant to “carry.” . . . When used with “arms,” however, the term has a meaning that refers to carrying for a particular purpose— confrontation. In Muscarello v. United States, . . . in the course of analyzing the meaning of “carries a firearm” in a federal criminal statute, JUSTICE GINSBURG wrote that “[s]urely a most familiar meaning is, as the Constitution’s Second Amendment . . . indicate[s]: ‘wear, bear, or carry . . . upon the person or in the clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose . . . of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person.’ ” We think that JUSTICE GINSBURG accurately captured the natural meaning of “bear arms.”

I don’t see how a requirement to keep firearms within the home and disassembled can be reconciled with the right to bear arms, as seen in Heller.

I believe the decision also speaks to the provision that would permit only revolvers:

It is no answer to say, as petitioners do, that it is permissible to ban the possession of handguns so long as the possession of other firearms (i.e., long guns) is allowed. It is enough to note, as we have observed, that the American people have considered the handgun to be the quintessential self-defense weapon. There are many reasons that a citizen may prefer a handgun for home defense: It is easier to store in a location that is readily accessible in an emergency; it cannot easily be redirected or wrestled away by an attacker; it is easier to use for those without the upper-body strength to lift and aim a long gun; it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police. Whatever the reason, handguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home, and a complete prohibition of their use is invalid.

This seems to indicate that Americans have the right to an appropriate weapon for self-defense, and that in particular that the prohibition of the most popular weapon is invalid. Semi-automatic pistols are the most popular weapon chosen for self-defense in the home, so the same principle should apply as for handguns in general, at least if plausible reasons can be given for preferring them. It’s not hard to come up with such reasons, since they are the same reasons DC wishes to ban them.

UPDATE: According to Glenn Reynolds, this is too charitable.  He reads the “reasonably perceived threat of immediate harm” exception to apply only when an intruder has already broken into your house.  Only then could you start assembling your gun.  That would make the exception useless, and plainly violate Heller.  There’s also a questionable vision test, which I missed.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s