Thursday, July 31, 2008

Exactly two weeks ago, we told Mayor Adrian Fenty and the D.C. Council that the overbearing emergency legislation regulating gun purchases, registration and ownership they passed would face a lawsuit. The week before, we told them how to possibly avoid litigation. City Hall did not listen. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, the District remains onerous.

A lawsuit was filed Monday by Dick Heller, the very gun-rights advocate who challenged the city’s strict handgun ban that led to the Supreme Court decision. The high court affirmed that citizens do indeed have the individual right to bear arms. In his latest suit, Mr. Heller is contending that the new D.C. regulations are “unreasonable and burdensome” for prospective gunowners. Mr. Heller argues, for example, that the city’s classification that a machine gun is any weapon that shoots more than 12 rounds without reloading makes most semi-automatic pistols off limits and does not conform to the public’s perception of what a machine gun is nor with the definition in any English language dictionary.

But there are other encroachments, including a provision that requires residents to keep their guns unloaded and disassembled in the home or equipped with a trigger lock. Worse is a provision that makes it impossible for residents to even register a newly purchased handgun: “The applicant takes his or her completed application to a licensed firearm dealer to take delivery of the pistol. If the dealer is outside the District, the dealer transports the pistol to a licensed dealer in the District to complete the transaction.”

There are five federally licensed dealers in the District, including the Shakespeare Theatre Inc. Arena Stage and some others, but none are selling or transferring firearms. The facts regarding the how-to of registration are singularly ironic because one of them is anti-gun lobbyist Josh Sugarmann. He is the founder and executive director of the Violence Policy Center, a group dedicated to gun control. But he is neither selling nor transferring firearms. Mr. Sugarmann has devoted much of his life to ending gun violence and defending gun laws. (The policy center has even advocated guns be regulated as a public-health product.)

That D.C. residents have no D.C. option when it comes to purchasing and registering firearms is unacceptable and turns any measure of common sense and reasonableness on its head.

City Hall could easily spare the Violence Policy Center and the Shakespeare Theatre the hardship by striking the provision when it returns from summer recess. But that is as likely as Mayor Adrian Fenty testing the onerousness of his own bureaucracy and anti-gun logic by trying to buy and register a handgun. Indeed, the mayor is seemingly refusing to yield even to the Supreme Court when it comes to handgun rights. Mr. Fenty’s response to the second lawsuit filed by Mr. Heller sounds as if the mayor was not even aware that the court had ruled in Mr. Heller’s favor: “The Office of the Attorney General will vigorously defend the District’s laws as reasonable regulations of firearms, and as the lawful action of the people’s representatives, the Mayor and the Council.”

The issue is not whether City Hall “will vigorously defend” the city’s statutes. The issue is twofold: 1) why City Hall refuses to obey the Supreme Court; 2) and why City Hall is becoming so litigious. The coolest of heads are needed when litigation involves the Constitution.

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