The District of Columbia will do anything to stop law-abiding people from owning firearms to defend themselves.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that D.C.’s 30-year handgun ban was unconstitutional in the landmark District of Columbia v. Heller decision. In response, Washington’s city council put in place the most onerous gun registration requirement in the country.
So Dick Heller is taking D.C. to court again in a case known as “Heller II.”
Heller told me in a phone interview Tuesday that, “The city collected every gun restriction they could find from every other state and gave them to us as thumbtacks on the road for our march to Second Amendment freedom.”
He is the lead plaintiff of five District residents who state that their constitutional rights are being infringed by the registration requirements. The city claims the process is necessary for “to protect police officers and to aid in crime control.”
On Tuesday evening, the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Stephen Halbrook and Dan Peterson filed a motion in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asking Judge James E. Boasberg for summary judgment. They also asked for denial of the city’s request for summary judgment last month.
The plaintiffs argue in the brief that, “These burdensome requirements appear calculated to discourage persons from registering firearms at all and, for those who do so, to snare them with expiration and re-registration deadlines that, if missed, would turn them into criminals.”
The re-registration requirement starts on Jan. 1. Every gun owners who has registered a gun since 1976 will have to go to police headquarters to be fingerprinted and photographed.
In Oct. 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the concept of what it called the “basic” registration of handguns, but not a requirement for long guns, which it termed “novel, not historic.” And the court questioned whether any registration of rifles and shotguns is constitutional.
Long guns are rarely used in crimes. Rifles and shotguns were the murder weapon in only three cases in the most recent three years of available data in D.C.
To put that in context, there were 96 homicides committed with things other than guns, like knives or fists, in that same time period.
Also, the appeals court remanded other issues back to the District Court to decide, such as the requirements that applicants appear in person at the police station to be fingerprinted and photographed, re-register their guns every three years, take a safety course and prove a knowledge of firearms on a written test.
The central points made in the plaintiffs’ 50-page brief are that law-abiding people are the only ones registering their guns, and that the process does not make the city any safer.
“Even if a simple registration requirement for handguns passes constitutional muster, the District’s complex procedures do not,” the lawyers wrote. “No State imposes requirements as onerous as the District’s.”
New facts on police activity and crime statistics are revealed from depositions with Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and the officers who oversee the Firearms Registration Section.
Lt. Jon Shelton revealed that there were only two handgun applications denied by his office in 2011 and 2012. Not a single rifle or shotgun application was refused.
The criminals just aren’t stopping by police headquarters to get fingerprinted and photographed before hitting the streets.
Meanwhile, the police recovered 12,000 unregistered firearms from 2007 to 2013.
Officers only found 36 registered guns in that same six-year period. Even then, only 17 of the those firearms were involved in charges against the registered firearm owner, and only two resulted in convictions of that person for a violent crime.
Furthermore, the police also aren’t using the registration records to solve crimes. “Lt. Shelton cannot recall any specific instance where registration records were used to determine who committed a crime,” except for possession offenses,” the plaintiffs wrote.
Contrary to previous assertions that registration is “critical” to police safety, the plaintiffs’ brief uncovers the truth that officers do not have access to registration records before responding to calls.
“D.C. maintained for years that guns must be registered so that police officers will know whether a gun is present when they respond to a call,” Mr. Halbrook told me.
“Yet no good cop would assume that criminals register guns. Now we know that D.C. police don’t check the gun registry when on the way to a crime scene, and the reason for registration collapses.”
Coincidentally, the appeals decision came down just one day before I walked into the Metropolitan Police Department and started a four-month odyssey to register a gun for the first time.
In the two years since, it has become clear that a 17-step registration mandate exists solely to dissuade law-abiding people from exercising their Second Amendment rights.
The registration process in D.C. has resulted in the good guys having their rights infringed, while the bad guys have a field day.
The courts should rule that it is unconstitutional. Mr. Heller plans to appeal until they do.
Emily Miller is senior editor of opinion for The Washington Times and author of "Emily Gets Her Gun" (Regnery, 2013).
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