Today, June 26, marks the one-year anniversary of the landmark D.C. v. Heller case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban and affirmed that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. The Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects “the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation. This meaning is strongly confirmed by the historical background of the Second Amendment.”
Yet despite this great victory, we can’t rest on our laurels. Those who would still deny our Second Amendment freedoms are always looking for ways to thwart our success and reverse that decision. And while the case affirmed that the Second Amendment prohibits the federal government, and federal entities such as Washington, D.C., from banning handguns for self-defense, the decision did not resolve the separate question of whether the Second Amendment applies to state and local governments.
As this is written, litigation is still going on in Washington, D.C. to implement the Heller decision. Suits by NRA and others have challenged the city’s adoption of California’s “handgun roster” scheme, as well as its ban on guns the city calls “assault weapons” and on standard-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
As originally implemented in the District, the “roster” system prohibited residents from acquiring handguns that are not approved for sale in California. Because manufacturers who seek listing on the California roster have to pay a fee for each model of handgun they want to sell in California, and also have to submit guns for testing, listings on the California roster regularly expire and many guns are never sold there in the first place.
Some of the plaintiffs in the current D.C. cases wanted to register guns that aren’t on the California roster because they were never submitted by manufacturers, or not renewed. Others wanted to register guns that were discontinued by manufacturers long before the roster existed—including a single-action .22 revolver identical to the one Dick Heller sought to register in the original case.
In the past two weeks, D.C. responded by issuing two sets of “emergency” regulations. The “emergency,” apparently, is the District’s desire to end these lawsuits, because the new rules adopt the Maryland and Massachusetts handgun rosters as part of a new “District Roster,” deem all handguns made before 1985 to be included on the “District Roster,” and exempt all pre-1985 single-action revolvers from the roster requirement. The “emergency” regulations have little effect on the “assault weapon” or magazine bans.
While the full impact of these changes on the lawsuits has not yet been determined, this is an important step toward recognition of District residents’ rights. We’ll be sure to keep you informed on any new developments.