- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2014

Gun-control legislation got a much closer look over the past year in the wake of the Connecticut school shootings — but the District and gun-rights activists have been fighting their own battle on the issue for the better part of a decade.

And the experience in the nation’s capital is likely to provide clues to how the gun-rights debate is likely to go in 2014.

Lawmakers on both sides of the issue on Capitol Hill consistently cited parts of the Supreme Court’s 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision that struck down the District’s long-standing handgun ban to bolster their positions. But the man behind the case and other gun-rights activists continue fighting to chip away at stringent gun laws in place in the District and elsewhere, as gun-control advocates try to stiff-arm the efforts and claim their own victories where they can.

The District’s gun debate remains squarely in the national spotlight: Reps. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, and John Barrow, Georgia Democrat, introduced a bill last month that would do away with D.C.’s ban on semiautomatic rifles and gut other gun restrictions — prompting a swift rebuke from the city’s non-voting delegate, Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton.

“[T]he NRA and their acolytes underestimate our residents if they think this city will tolerate autocratic rule from Congress, particularly on the life-and-death issue of gun safety, any more than the 4th District of Ohio or the 12th District of Georgia would tolerate dictatorship from Congress on local matters,” she said.

But the introduction of the standalone bill is emblematic of how the debate has shifted since the Heller decision. Though it struck down the District’s 32-year handgun law, the high court majority also declared the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms is “not unlimited,” citing concealed weapons laws and prohibitions on felons and the mentally ill from owning guns, for example.

In 2010, as Congress was weighing whether to give D.C. voting rights in the House, Republicans introduced a rider to the bill that would have similarly gutted the District’s gun laws. Democrats, including Mrs. Norton and Mayor Vincent C. Gray, then chairman of the D.C. City Council, agreed that the trade-off would have been too costly, and the bill was pulled. Then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty had supported it.

Now, after a year that saw many states impose their own firearms restrictions but no major federal legislation pass Congress, the introduction of the bill indicates that gun-control advocates are still playing defense at the national level in many ways, despite the Newtown tragedy.

“‘Keep and bear arms’ does not limit you to keeping your gun in your house,” said Dick Heller, the litigant in the original gun-rights case. “‘Bear arms’ means to transport, to carry, to protect yourself outside your household.”

The Illinois Supreme Court agreed, striking down that state’s ban on concealed handguns as unconstitutional in September.

But Mr. Heller has continued to tangle with the District over its gun-registration requirements after the 2008 decision that amended city law to permit the registration of a pistol by “[a]ny person … for use in self-defense within that person’s home.”

In 2010, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled for the city. Mr. Heller and other plaintiffs appealed.

In October 2011, the D.C. Circuit upheld the city’s ban on military-style semiautomatic rifles and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, but remanded some of the registration requirements for further review.

In 2012, the D.C. City Council passed a law that did away with several of the registration requirements, such as requiring gun owners to undergo a background check every six years. Mr. Heller and the plaintiffs then filed a third amended complaint in July 2012, challenging a broad swath of the city’s laws, including requirements that applicants submit fingerprints and photographs, complete a firearms training or safety course, and not be blind.

“They went everywhere and collected every gun-control law they could find and put it into our gun-control laws in D.C., and that’s what Heller II challenged,” he said.

D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan argued that the city’s requirements “are not onerous or unduly burdensome.”

“[T]hey do not violate the Second Amendment, even assuming they impinge on some ‘core’ aspect of that right,” he wrote in a motion filed late last year.

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