Monday, July 21, 2003

Cato Institute scholar Robert A. Levy yesterday accused the National Rifle Association of conspiring with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch to “sabotage” his lawsuit to overturn the District’s draconian gun ban.

The traditional allies found themselves on a war footing over tactics in the campaign to win Supreme Court sanction that the Second Amendment bestows an individual right to own firearms.

After simmering since the Shelly Parker v. District of Columbia lawsuit was filed in February, the dispute boiled over when the Utah Republican and 19 co-sponsors filed a bill last week that would end Mr. Levy’s lawsuit by accomplishing what his complaint asked — nullifying the District’s 1976 law imposing some of the nation’s toughest gun laws.

When asked why he would not welcome laxer gun-control laws, even if it made his case moot, Mr. Levy said a Supreme Court constitutional ruling would be much more important than a narrow law applying only to the District.

“I’m saying the court should address the Second Amendment issue. There’s nothing else in the case,” Mr. Levy said. “Hatch’s bill is a Band-Aid. It doesn’t do a thing for anyone outside Washington, and could be repealed at any time. … This just basically undermines our whole case.”

The bill also would write into law the interpretation that the Constitution guarantees that individuals “including those who are not members of a militia or engaged in military service or training” may keep and bear arms.

“It is time to tell the citizens of the District of Columbia that the Second Amendment of the Constitution applies to them, and not only to their fellow Americans in the rest of the country,” Mr. Hatch said.

“The facts suggest that Hatch and the NRA are doing everything they can to prevent the Supreme Court from upholding the Second Amendment,” a frustrated Mr. Levy said yesterday in an interview about his lawsuit that accused the District of unconstitutionally outlawing most handgun ownership.

He said the NRA recognizes the validity of his case, but harbors qualms about whether the current nine justices would agree, and wants to control any such appeals.

“If a good case doesn’t go up, a bad case is going to go up. This is a case of a black female living in SE Washington who’s been told by a drug dealer that she’s going to die, and wants a gun in her home,” Mr. Levy said.

Anti-gun lawyer Mathew Nosanchuk of the Violence Policy Center opposes what the Hatch bill would accomplish, but relishes his opponents’ discomfort.

“Basically, the NRA has for a long time done everything it can to avoid having the Second Amendment come before the justices. I think they weren’t, and aren’t, confident of the outcome,” Mr. Nosanchuk said.

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam professed puzzlement over what he called “lawyers with huge egos trying to clash.”

“The Cato Institute seems to feel we have some kind of hidden agenda,” Mr. Arulanandam said of Mr. Levy’s charge that the nation’s leading pro-gun organization would not want to clarify Second Amendment rights.

Stephen Halbrook, a veteran NRA adviser and gun-law specialist, was unavailable to discuss Mr. Levy’s charge of ethical violations for serving as a paid researcher for the Parker lawsuit and then becoming lead counsel in a “copycat case” for the NRA.

“I think the NRA has behaved abysmally here and Steve Halbrook is their hired gun,” Mr. Levy said.

Mr. Halbrook has said his position raises no ethical issues because he does not take a position adverse to Mr. Levy’s lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan ruled against the NRA lawyer’s request to join the cases for trial.

Mr. Arulanandam would not confirm that the NRA asked Mr. Hatch to file his bill, but said the organization supports the measure, which would virtually nullify the 1976 law.

“We think it’s a tremendous step forward as far as ensuring the rights of law-abiding D.C. residents to own a firearm to protect themselves and their loved ones in their homes,” he said.

Margarita Tapia, press secretary for the Senate Judiciary Committee, backed away from committing Mr. Hatch to either side in the legal battle.

“Senator Hatch believes there is an individual and fundamental right to bear arms. The citizens of D.C. have had those rights trampled upon for far too long and there is no reason why litigation and legislation cannot be pursued simultaneously,” she said.

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