- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2008

(AP) — The lawyer leading the Supreme Court case challenging the District’s ban on handgun ownership is Robert A. Levy — a man who has never owned a handgun, nor has a burning desire to own one. And he hasn’t been a D.C. resident since the 1950s.

But for six years, the wealthy attorney has carefully plotted a legal challenge to the District’s strict ban, a potentially historic case now before the country’s highest court. The Florida resident helped handpick the plaintiffs involved and is paying the legal fees.

Why all the effort? Mr. Levy says he is driven to defend constitutional rights he thinks are being trampled by the 32-year ban on private ownership of handguns.

“I believe in the written Constitution, and that the text ought to be interpreted the way it was meant to be,” he said.

Mr. Levy, 66, didn’t exactly try to keep his role secret as he and a small group of other lawyers crafted the case and shepherded it through the federal courts. He writes frequently about gun rights, stating a few years ago that Americans “deserve a foursquare pronouncement from the nation’s highest court about the meaning of the Second Amendment.” The high court hasn’t directly ruled on gun rights in roughly 70 years.

Mr. Levy freely acknowledges the case is manufactured, not one that bubbled up by chance from the District’s steady flow of criminal cases involving guns. He wanted presentable plaintiffs to make a case for gun rights, not criminals.

“We didn’t want crackheads and bank robbers to be poster boys for the Second Amendment,” he said.

A former businessman who made millions in money management before going to law school at age 50, Mr. Levy is a lawyer with the libertarian Cato Institute, though he says the handgun case is independent of his work there. He grew up in the District and later lived in Maryland, but has since moved to Naples, Fla.

Mr. Levy sparred early on with the National Rifle Association, which feared the makeup of the Supreme Court at the time could lead to more restrictions on guns, not fewer. But the high court has since shifted to the right with appointments by President Bush. And Mr. Levy said he and the NRA have made peace.

Mr. Levy said he has long considered a legal challenge to the law, but thought his best chance came around 2002.

Liberal legal scholars such as Harvard’s Laurence Tribe began to argue that the Second Amendment did protect individual rights. In 2001, a federal appellate court made the same conclusion, but still upheld the Texas law on transportation of firearms. Mr. Levy said he also was encouraged when the Justice Department, then under Attorney General John Ashcroft, supported individual rights in the same case.

Mr. Levy, who will argue the case with Alan Gura and another lawyer, tried to find plaintiffs to make his case. The plaintiffs were diverse: a white security guard, a gay man, as well as a black woman who felt threatened by drug dealers.

The only remaining plaintiff is Dick Anthony Heller, the security guard who applied for a handgun license in 2003 and was rejected under the District’s handgun ban. The lower federal courts, while striking down the law, concluded only Mr. Heller was harmed by the city’s law.

Mr. Levy won’t say how much he is spending on the case, but he said what he pays Mr. Gura “probably violates the minimum-wage laws.”

He likes his chances, given the Supreme Court’s makeup and lower court rulings on the issue of individual rights. And while defenders of the ban say it saves lives, Mr. Levy thinks it strips citizens of their right to self-protection.

“The worst possible solution is the one we have, where anybody who is a bad guy can get a gun any time they want, but the good people who want to defend themselves can’t get one without breaking the law,” he said.

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