An experienced gun user, Mrs. Welling wanted her Glock pistol for protection when her family moved to Anacostia in 2011. But the District’s only vendor with a federal firearms license had lost the lease on his store, temporarily shuttering his duties and leaving the 30-year-old stay-at-home mom with no legal way to bring her weapon from Texas.
“We were just getting settled in with the baby, and there were all of these break-ins and robberies — someone was shot point-blank not too far from where we were living,” she said. “I felt we needed the gun for home protection.”
Her challenge to the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 is bundled with several other gun rights cases that the Supreme Court is to decide by Friday whether to hear. The law allows only federally licensed firearms vendors to receive and process handguns purchased or brought from out of state.
Her attorney, Alan Gura, said that if her lawsuit succeeds, residents of any state will be able to buy or transfer any handgun that can be sold legally in any state and take possession of it without the intercession of a federally licensed middleman.
“The standing issue that we’re seeing with our case could be utilized to ban any number of things,” Mr. Gura said. “Nothing in the 4th Circuit [Court] decision would suggest its logic is limited to firearms.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit dismissed the case in December 2012, ruling that any injury Mrs. Welling may have incurred resulted from the District’s lack of a federally licensed vendor and not the 1968 law that requires out-of-state handgun purchases to be made from one federally licensed dealer to another. Rifles and shotguns are exempt.
“The national marketplace for owning a handgun has really been restricted because everyone has to go through these [federally licensed firearms dealers],” Mr. Gura said. “The courts are going out of their way to deny Second Amendment rights to people.”
While the case was making its way through the 4th Circuit, the District remedied its problem by allowing its one vendor, Charles Sykes, to operate within the Metropolitan Police Department. The District also enacted a law last year that requires the mayor to appoint another federally licensed dealer should Mr. Sykes go out of business.
Trevor Burrus, a constitutional scholar at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, has been following the case. He said it has a chance of being heard by the high court because of its standing issue.
For instance, he said, if the federal government wanted to prohibit bookstores from selling books to out-of-state residents, those residents could sue, citing a violation of their First Amendment rights. Substitute guns for books and First Amendment for Second Amendment, and you have a different story, Mr. Burrus said, citing an example Mr. Gura made in his petition to the Supreme Court.
“It’s absolutely unbelievable. If this were any other retail item, there would be complete outrage, but since it’s a gun, we’re OK with it,” Mr. Burrus said.
He also noted that the federally licensed vendor law is obsolete in regard to handguns because it was enacted before instant background checks became available.
Lindsay Nichols, a lawyer with the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocates stronger gun control nationwide, said tough restrictions and federally licensed firearms requirements keep criminals from obtaining guns and helps prevent violence.
“Owning a gun is just a matter of filling out a couple of forms, getting a background check completed and sometimes taking a gun safety class,” Ms. Nichols said, ranking the District’s gun laws among the country’s strongest. “All of these are reasonable restrictions that don’t infringe on anyone’s Second Amendment right.”