U.S. Backs District Gun Law In Court

Josey1Josey1 Member Posts: 15,758
edited May 2002 in General Discussion
U.S. Backs District Gun Law In Court
Argument Differs From Ashcroft's
_____From The Post_____

D.C. Handgun Ban Challenged in Court (The Washington Post, May 30, 2002)

_____Special Report_____

The Gun Fight

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By Neely Tucker and Arthur Santana
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 31, 2002; Page A01

The U.S. attorney's office argued yesterday in D.C. Superior Court that the District's ban on handguns should be upheld, brushing aside the Bush administration's new directive that the Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to bear firearms.

In the first of at least three cases that challenge the District's prohibition on handguns as unconstitutional, assistant U.S. attorneys filed motions defending the broad statute, citing a 15-year-old D.C. Court of Appeals decision as binding local precedent.

The court arguments take a different position from those made by Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson in internal memos or in writings to the U.S. Supreme Court, in which they said the Second Amendment gives individuals a constitutional right to gun ownership.

As the D.C. cases began what is likely to be a long journey through the legal system, some members of Congress called yesterday for hearings on Ashcroft's reversal of long-standing government interpretation.

"Attorney General Ashcroft should be called upon to explain his shift of litigation position on the Second Amendment," Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote to Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), chairman of the panel. "Congress and the American people are entitled to know how the prosecutors in the Department of Justice are applying this new interpretation of the law."

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) urged Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to file legal motions in support of the city's handgun ban. One of the farthest-reaching gun-control laws in the country, it effectively prohibits anyone but law enforcement officials from owning a handgun. Rifles and shotguns are carefully licensed.

"The District should pull out all the stops to preserve our valuable handgun ban law at a time when crime rates have begun to rise again," Norton said.

The controversy stems from a complex argument about the precise meaning and intent of the Second Amendment: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1939 that the possession of a sawed-off shotgun did not apply to the maintenance of such a state militia. That ruling, the last time the court addressed the issue, has been consistently interpreted by lower courts as not conferring to individuals a constitutional right to bear arms.

Ashcroft, in a letter to the National Rifle Association last year, said he disagreed with that view. When a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in October said the Second Amendment did apply to individual rights, Ashcroft quickly sent a memo to all U.S. attorneys citing the case as precedent. The agency also supported the 5th Circuit opinion in papers filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Ashcroft also said in his memo, "The department can and will continue to defend the constitutionality of all existing federal firearms laws." The administration has noted that "unfit" persons, such as felons, the mentally ill and others who violate the law, forfeit the right to have guns.

That was the position taken by the U.S. attorney's office yesterday in the cases of Manuel M. Brown, 21, and Michael A. Freeman, 26.

Brown, charged with first-degree murder, also faces charges of carrying a pistol without a license while committing the killing. His court-appointed attorneys from the Public Defender Service have argued that the Bush administration's arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court, while not carrying the force of law, show that the nation's top law enforcement officials are arguing to the nation's highest court that broad handgun bans are unconstitutional.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan M. Boyd said in yesterday's briefs that a local precedent was set in 1987 when the D.C. Court of Appeals "squarely held" that the city's statute against carrying a pistol without a license does not violate the Second Amendment.

The D.C. cases have drawn attention from both sides in the gun-control debate.

"It's good to see the U.S. attorney's office is urging the court to follow D.C. precedent," said Mathew Nosanchuk, litigation director for the Violence Policy Center, a gun-control advocacy group. "But the Justice Department is arguing against binding precedent before the Supreme Court. They're not going to be able to keep finessing it."

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said the D.C. issue is "ultimately for Congress to decide."

"The NRA stands on the principle that law-abiding citizens have the right to firearms to protect themselves, or for any reason . . . guaranteed by the Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights," he said.

Opposition papers for the third D.C. defendant, Vaughn Stebbins, 22, will be filed later, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

In a separate challenge to the D.C. law, Rep. Brian Kerns (R-Ind.) introduced legislation this spring seeking to overturn the handgun ban. His measure is before the House Government Reform Committee, where a spokesman said no action was pending.

Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.

c 2002 The Washington Post Company


"If cowardly and dishonorable men sometimes shoot unarmed men with army pistols or guns, the evil must be prevented by the penitentiary and gallows, and not by a general deprivation of a constitutional privilege." - Arkansas Supreme Court, 1878


  • IconoclastIconoclast Member Posts: 10,912
    edited November -1
    "The District should pull out all the stops to preserve our valuable handgun ban law at a time when crime rates have begun to rise again," Norton said.

    Her title should read "Del. Norton (D-PC)" Gee, the crime rate rises as the laws become more restrictive and Lott's study shows the converse also holds true. Don't confuse these mushbrains with facts, they know what is best for us.
  • salzosalzo Member Posts: 6,837
    edited November -1
    Saxon- X-RING.

    Happiness is a warm gun
  • HighballHighball Member Posts: 15,755
    edited November -1
    Gosh...it's so gratifing to see the light bulb go on over a person's head,isn't it ?
    Alltho,I do understand the human wish to believe the best....

    God,Guts,& GunsHave we lost all 3 ??
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