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Court Dismisses "Heller II" Case: D.C. Gun Registration, <BR>"Assault Weapon" Ban, and "Large" Magazine Ban Upheld

Friday, March 26, 2010

Today, District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, dismissed Heller v. District of Columbia, NRA's case challenging D.C.'s prohibitive firearm registration requirements, and its bans on "assault weapons" and "large capacity ammunition feeding devices." Mr. Heller was, of course, lead plaintiff in District of Columbia v. Heller, decided by the Supreme Court in 2008.

Judge Urbina rejected Heller's assertion that D.C.'s registration and gun and magazine bans should be subject to a "strict scrutiny" standard of review, under which they could survive only if they are justified by a compelling government interest, are narrowly tailored to achieve that interest, and are the least restrictive means of achieving that interest.

In support of that rejection, Urbina opined that in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) the Supreme Court "did not explicitly hold that the Second Amendment right is a fundamental right," and he adopted the argument of dissenting Justices in that case, that the Court's upholding of a law prohibiting possession of firearms by felons implied that the Court did not consider that laws infringing the right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms should be subject to a strict scrutiny standard of review.

Judge Urbina also rejected D.C.'s contention that its laws should be required to pass only a "reasonableness test," which would "require the court to uphold a law regulating firearms so long as the legislature had 'articulated proper reasons for acting, with meaningful supporting evidence,' and the measure did 'not interfere with the "core right" the Second Amendment protects by depriving the people of reasonable means to defend themselves in their homes.'"

Instead, Urbina purported to subject D.C.'s registration, gun ban, and magazine ban to an "intermediate scrutiny" level of review, in which he first considered whether those laws "implicate the core Second Amendment right" and, if they do, whether they are "substantially related to an important governmental interest."

Urbina agreed that D.C.'s firearm registration scheme implicates the "core Second Amendment right," which, based upon the Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), he described as the right to have a firearm at home for protection. But, he noted that the Court "suggested in Heller that such requirements [as registration] are not unconstitutional as a general matter," and he concluded that D.C. had adequately articulated a compelling governmental interest in promulgating its registration scheme.

Based upon the Supreme Court's statement in Heller, that machine guns might not fall within the scope of the Second Amendment because they are not commonly owned, and relying heavily on error-ridden testimony provided by D.C. and the Brady Campaign about the use of semi-automatic firearms in crime, Urbina concluded that D.C.'s "assault weapon" and "large" magazine bans do not infringe the right to have a firearm at home for protection.

Regrettably, Urbina uncritically accepted all of the "factual" claims in the committee report of the D.C. City Council and ignored hard evidence that "assault weapons" and "large" magazines are in "common use," the standard Heller adopted. As we have detailed in other Alerts, of course, such firearms and their standard magazines holding over 10 rounds are owned by millions of Americans and their numbers are rising rapidly with every week that passes.

Stay tuned. Word about whether Judge Urbina's decision will be appealed, or whether a legislative remedy will be sought in Congress, or both, will certainly be forthcoming.

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