Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell yesterday said he intends to file a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a federal court’s decision to overturn the District’s gun ban.
Mr. McDonnell, 52, a Republican who has made known his intentions to run for governor in 2009, said that when the high court rules on the case sometime next year it could change how localities and states across the nation approach gun regulations.
“This is a very important case, perhaps the most important case [concerning the Second Amendment] in American history,” Mr. McDonnell said. It “has been around for 200-plus years and this question has never been decided.”
Legal briefs in the case are due by January. Arguments are scheduled for March. A decision is likely by June.
The court will limit its ruling to whether D.C. laws “violate the Second Amendment rights of individuals who are not affiliated with any state-regulated militia, but who wish to keep handguns and other firearms for private use in their homes.”
The Second Amendment states: “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.”
Some say the amendment was designed as a collective right to bear arms, for individuals involved in state militias, while others say it is an individual right.
Mr. McDonnell joined officials in Texas and Arkansas in filing briefs that support repeal of the District’s gun ban. Officials in Maryland, New York, Illinois and Hawaii are filing briefs backing the law.
“The right to bear arms secured in the Bill of Rights is a right ‘of the people.’ We believe that our founders declared, in the Second Amendment, that American citizens have the personal right to bear arms as individuals,” Mr. McDonnell said.
The court’s decision to hear the case came in response to a March ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which said the city’s gun ban “amounts to a complete prohibition on the lawful use of handguns for self-defense.”
Mr. McDonnell yesterday said repeatedly that he was weighing in on the constitutional argument and denied any suggestion he was telling elected officials in the District how to conduct their business.
He ducked the question of whether overturning the ban would improve safety on D.C. streets, saying, “I will have to leave it up to experts whether a gun ban increases or decreases public safety.”
Mr. McDonnell since taking office in January 2006 has taken several high-profile stands on gun issues.
He won kudos from gun-rights activists this year for a dispute with New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
The feud between Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, and Mr. Bloomberg, an independent, erupted after New York City sued 27 gun dealers, including six in Virginia, for selling guns to undercover agents through illegal “straw purchases” by which one person legally fills out a form and buys a gun for someone else.
Mr. McDonnell warned Mr. Bloomberg in a letter that a new Virginia law effective July 1 prohibited New York from sending undercover agents into the state to purchase guns illegally.
In May, he advised Virginia State Police to close the records of people licensed to carry concealed weapons after newspaper reports printed the names and addresses of Virginians with concealed-handgun permits.
He also has ruled that school boards cannot prohibit the possession of firearms at board meetings held off school grounds.
Some have speculated that Mr. McDonnell’s high-profile stands on gun issues could be an attempt to rehabilitate his image among gun-rights advocates.
The National Rifle Association backed Mr. McDonnell’s opponent, state Sen. Robert Creigh Deeds, in the 2005 attorney general’s race, citing Mr. McDonnell’s support of a 1993 law that limited Virginians to one handgun purchase per month.
Mr. McDonnell defeated Mr. Deeds, Bath County Democrat, by 320 votes.
Mr. Deeds has already announced his candidacy for governor in 2009 and could face Mr. McDonnell in a rematch of the 2005 attorney general’s race.