Explore The NRA Universe Of Websites

APPEARS IN Legal & Legislation

Moving Targets

Thursday, February 19, 2009


 
Washington, D.C., Chicago, Morton Grove, Winnetka, Evanston, Oak Park, Wilmette: After the U.S. Supreme Court’s Heller decision, NRA’s lawyers are fighting civil rights battles in cities across the nation.

By Chris W. Cox
NRA-ILA Executive Director

Every shooter and hunter knows that moving targets are the hardest to hit.

Whether it’s a flushing pheasant in a cornfield or a “mover” at a handgun match, a moving target tests your nerves and your skill. Second Amendment litigation is much the same, as some local governments have changed their laws to duck challenges based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Heller decision last summer.

After the Heller ruling that the District of Columbia’s bans on handguns and on keeping loaded, operable guns in the home violated the Second Amendment, NRA and its team of outside lawyers began filing a series of lawsuits aimed at expanding the civil rights of gun owners under the Second Amendment. We’ve always known progress in the courts would be slow. Still, our efforts have forced the repeal of some of America’s worst local gun laws—with the prospect of more victories to come.

Naturally, one of the first, and most important, post-Heller cases is the follow-up litigation in Washington, D.C. As
soon as the Supreme Court decision became final in July, the District of Columbia Council passed an “emergency” law that allowed residents to own a pistol only “for use in self-defense within [the] home.”  The new law also allowed the District to charge would-be handgun owners multiple, unlimited fees for registration, fingerprinting and a “ballistics identification procedure.”

The District also kept its peculiar definition of “machine gun,” which bans not only firearms capable of fully automatic fire, but also firearms that shoot “or can be readily converted or restored to shoot … semiautomatically, more than 12 shots without manual reloading.”  (Emphasis added.)  To make matters worse, D.C. interpreted this language to ban any semi-automatic that uses a detachable magazine, because someone, somewhere, might have a magazine that would hold 12 or more rounds of ammunition.

Finally, once a new handgun owner suffered through the District’s bureaucratic process, he could only assemble, unlock and load the gun “while it is being used to protect against a reasonably perceived threat of immediate harm to a person within the registrant’s home.”

Naturally, this behavior by the District was unacceptable. Dick Anthony Heller (the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case) and Absalom Jordan Jr. (a longtime advocate for gun owners in D.C.) both put it to the test by trying to register semi-automatic pistols. Though neither gun was designed to fire more than 10 shots, the Metropolitan Police denied both applications, claiming the guns were “machine guns” under D.C.’s strange law. With NRA’s support, Second Amendment attorneys Stephen Halbrook and Richard Gardiner filed suit on Heller’s and Jordan’s behalf, challenging the District’s “machine gun” definition and other obstacles to legitimate gun ownership.

Winnetka and Morton Grove promptly repealed their bans, and both cases were dismissed. (Another town, Wilmette, repealed its handgun ban before we could file a suit.)

But before the “Heller II” case could progress much further, the D.C. Council passed a second “emergency” bill in September. (Under the federal law that gave home rule powers to the District, “emergency” bills can only stay in effect for 90 days, but unlike permanent laws they cannot be disapproved by the Congress.)  The second “emergency” bill repealed the old machine gun definition and adopted the definition used in federal law—legalizing semi-automatic rifles and pistols in D.C. But it also banned magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition (much like the federal ban that expired in 2004). This bill also repealed the old storage law, replacing it with a new penalty for “criminally negligent storage of a firearm” when a minor can gain access to the gun.

Then, as if the target weren’t moving fast enough, the D.C. Council passed a third bill—this one permanent, but still awaiting final action as this article goes to press. And this one’s the worst yet. We’ve always known D.C. wants to be a state, and now we know which state it wants to be, since the latest bill borrows major provisions of California law. These include California’s convoluted ban on “unsafe” handguns; California’s bans on “assault weapons” (the most restrictive law of that type in the country) and on .50 BMG rifles; and California’s ban on new handguns that don’t “micro-stamp” fired cartridges.

At this point, it’s unclear what will happen next in court. At the very least, Heller’s and Jordan’s lawyers will have to wait until the paint dries on D.C.’s laws and modify the lawsuit to address the District’s new and shifting attacks on the Second Amendment.

While we wait, there’s plenty of action elsewhere—notably in Chicago, where several Second Amendment cases were filed in the days after the Heller decision. In Chicago itself, NRA filed suit on behalf of its members in the city, challenging the city’s laws (which are closely based on those struck down in D.C.). In the weeks that followed, NRA also filed suit to overturn local handgun bans in the towns of Evanston, Morton Grove, Oak Park and Winnetka. All these suits had one thing in common: They would provide a clear avenue for the courts to find that the Second Amendment, and therefore the Heller decision, applies to states and cities through the Fourteenth Amendment—a doctrine known as “incorporation,” which has already protected most of the liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights from state infringement.

Some Chicago-area cases came to a quick and favorable end. Winnetka and Morton Grove promptly repealed their bans, and both cases were dismissed.

(Another town, Wilmette, repealed its handgun ban before we could file a suit.) The Evanston case was assigned to a judge who had written unfavorably about the Second Amendment in the past—but who refused to remove himself from the case. Then, Evanston amended its laws, but maintained a total ban on transporting handguns. It still prohibited handgun possession by nonresidents and possession outside the home—by storeowners, for example. Unfortunately, this was good enough for the judge, who dismissed the case. (Fortunately, NRA still has several options under consideration to continue the fight.)

The remaining legal battles in Illinois involve Chicago and Oak Park. The Oak Park case, along with two Chicago cases (one supported by NRA, the other by the Second Amendment Foundation) have all been sent to the same courtroom. Not surprisingly given the city’s deep pockets, Chicago so far has fought hard and won dismissal of NRA’s case. This outcome was no surprise—and came in a quick and “clean” decision that lays the groundwork for a prompt NRA appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and perhaps, eventually, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

These cities and towns are not the only targets for our Second Amendment litigation. Another of our earliest suits—filed less than 24 hours after the Heller decision—was against the San Francisco Housing Authority, which imposed a complete ban on firearm possession by public housing residents. Rather than fight and lose a long court battle, the agency re

TRENDING NOW
NASCAR Takes a Hard Left

News  

Friday, August 30, 2019

NASCAR Takes a Hard Left

After decades of NASCAR drivers literally turning left for hours every race day (road course races excluded, of course), the governing body appears to be taking a figurative left turn, politically. K-Var, a retailer in outdoor and ...

San Francisco Board of Supervisors Declares NRA a “Domestic Terrorist Organization”

News  

Sunday, September 8, 2019

San Francisco Board of Supervisors Declares NRA a “Domestic Terrorist Organization”

On September 3, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution, “declaring that the National Rifle Association is a domestic terrorist organization and urging other cities, states, and the federal government to do the same.”The resolution was ...

News  

Friday, September 13, 2019

NRA Statement on Texas Governor's Safety Action Report

The National Rifle Association released the following statement on Friday regarding Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's Texas Safety Action Report:   

“Pro-gun” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Turns on Second Amendment Supporters, Sides With Anti-Gun Lobby

News  

Sunday, September 8, 2019

“Pro-gun” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Turns on Second Amendment Supporters, Sides With Anti-Gun Lobby

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick uses his political website to claim he is “leading the fight for life and liberty in Texas, including … standing up for the Second Amendment.” He also proudly notes his prior NRA endorsement. But ...

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Florida Alert! Are You Ready For Gun Registration?

A Constitutional Amendment calling for an "assault weapons" ban is being proposed for the ballot in 2020.  The definition of "assault weapon," in the amendment, includes ALL semi-automatic rifles and shotguns.  If the amendment goes on the ballot ...

California: Anti-Gun Bills Sent to Governor

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

California: Anti-Gun Bills Sent to Governor

Earlier this week, the California Legislature cast final votes on AB 12, AB 61, AB 879, AB 1254, AB 1297, and AB 1669, which will now move to Governor Newsom's desk for his consideration.  

Guide To The Interstate Transportation Of Firearms

Gun Laws  

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Guide To The Interstate Transportation Of Firearms

CAUTION: Federal and state firearms laws are subject to frequent change. This summary is not to be considered as legal advice or a restatement of law.

Groovy: Former NY Times Editor Wants to Return to 1960 Gun Laws

News  

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Groovy: Former NY Times Editor Wants to Return to 1960 Gun Laws

Proving once again that ignorance is no bar to publication in the U.S. legacy press, former executive editor of the New York Times Howell Raines has offered his inane take on the current gun control ...

News  

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The 1994 Clinton Crime Bill's Firearm Provisions

President Clinton signed the 1994 federal Crime Bill into law on Sept. 13, 1994, including the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which made it a federal crime for a private individual ...

Marching Toward Gun Confiscation: Prohibition Advocates Released Unhinged Gun Control Plan

News  

Monday, August 26, 2019

Marching Toward Gun Confiscation: Prohibition Advocates Released Unhinged Gun Control Plan

This week, March for Our Lives – the gun control group that arose in the wake of the criminal mass attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. – released a lengthy plan ...

MORE TRENDING +
LESS TRENDING -

More Like This From Around The NRA

NRA ILA

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.