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D.C. Gun Ban Ruled Unconstitutional, Violates Individual Right To Own A Gun

Friday, March 9, 2007

This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the Second Amendment is an individual right and concluded that the District of Columbia’s ban on guns in the home is unconstitutional. (Read NRA's amicus curiae briefin Parker v. District of Columbia) According to the majority opinion, "[T]he phrase 'the right of the people'...leads us to conclude that the right in question is individual." Also, earlier this week, Second Amendment supporters on Capitol Hill introduced H.R. 1399 - the "District of Columbia Personal Protection Act."

In ruling on the D.C. gun ban case, the majority opinion of the Circuit Court held as follows:

"To summarize, we conclude that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. That right existed prior to the formation of the new government under the Constitution and was premised on the private use of arms for activities such as hunting and self-defense, the latter being understood as resistance to either private lawlessness or the depredations of a tyrannical government (or a threat from abroad). In addition, the right to keep and bear arms had the important and salutary civic purpose of helping to preserve the citizen militia. The civic purpose was also a political expedient for the Federalists in the First Congress as it served, in part, to placate their Anti-federalist opponents. The individual right facilitated militia service by ensuring that citizens would not be barred from keeping the arms they would need when called forth for militia duty. Despite the importance of the Second Amendment's civic purpose, however, the activities it protects are not limited to militia service, nor is an individual's enjoyment of the right contingent upon his or her continued or intermittent enrollment in the militia."

Read the majority opinion here

In its ruling, the Court also rejected the argument that the Second Amendment does not apply to the District of Columbia, which has had a gun ban on the books for decades, because it is not a State. The majority opinion concludes that the D.C. prohibition on gun ownership in the home, "amounts to a complete prohibition on the lawful use of handguns for self-defense. As such, we hold it unconstitutional."

The ruling was not unanimous, and the dissenting judge makes it clear in her dissent that opponents of the Second Amendment are still pervasive throughout our federal court system.

Today's ruling is the second time a federal circuit court has upheld the individual nature of the Second Amendment in recent years. In 2001, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously found in the case of U.S. v. Emerson that, "All of the evidence indicates that the Second Amendment, like other parts of the Bill of Rights, applies to and protects individual Americans....We find that the history of the Second Amendment reinforces the plain meaning of its text, namely that it protects individual Americans in their right to keep and bear arms..."

While the court decision was certainly great news, earlier this week, Second Amendment supporters on Capitol Hill introduced H.R. 1399 - the "District of Columbia Personal Protection Act." This legislation, by Representatives Mike Ross (D-Ark.) and Mark Souder (R-Ind.), seeks to restore the constitutionally-guaranteed Second Amendment rights of the residents of the District of Columbia.

In lauding the D.C. court decision, and announcing her plans to introduce the Senate companion bill to H.R. 1399, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) noted, "I agree with the court that the Constitution guarantees law-abiding citizens the right to bear arms and defend themselves. That is why next week I will reintroduce my legislation to repeal the existing ban. Protection of constitutional rights does not cease when you cross into the borders of the District of Columbia. Not only is Washington, D.C.’s gun ban unconstitutional, but it also has been a public policy failure as seen in the rise in crime since its enactment. The time has finally come to change course."

The need for this corrective legislation is obvious. Since 1977, the District has banned the possession of all handguns not acquired and registered before that year. D.C. law also prohibits keeping an assembled rifle or shotgun in the home, effectively outlawing the use of firearms for lawful self-defense. And despite these Draconian gun control laws, Washington, D.C., consistently has one of the highest murder rates in the nation.

This legislation had a record high number of cosponsors in the 109th Congress (235 cosponsors for the House version, and 41 cosponsors for the Senate version). The House has voted on this issue four different times over the past eight years but the Senate has yet to consider it.

Please be sure to contact your U.S. Representative at (202) 225-3121, and ask him or her to cosponsor and support the "District of Columbia Personal Protection Act."

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution..