Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The District, rebuffed by the Supreme Court last month in a landmark decision on its 32-year-old gun ban, could soon be headed back to court over a new gun law that could take effect as early as Wednesday.

The D.C. Council will vote Tuesday on emergency legislation that will require handgun owners to keep their weapons disassembled or under lock and key in what gun rights advocates see as direct defiance of the Supreme Court ruling.

That ruling said the District could not bar residents from “rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense.”

Some interpreted that language at the time as prohibiting any requirement for gun locks.

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“They’re doing everything that they can to not comply with the Supreme Court ruling,” said National Rifle Association, who dismissed the proposed legislation as “a joke.”

“Unless the criminal calls you beforehand and lets you know he’s coming over … you’re going to be left defenseless,” Mr. Cox said.

D.C. interim Attorney General Peter J. Nickles acknowledged that officials expected strong reactions to the emergency legislation, which will be in effect for only 90 days.

“We expect a lot of public input, [and] we probably expect also a lawsuit,” he said. “We will learn from what it is we see, and it may be appropriate to change some of the measures.”

In the majority Supreme Court opinion that struck down the District’s gun ban, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that “the District´s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense.”

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on Monday announced the proposed emergency legislation, which allows guns to be registered for self-defense in the home, requires that a ballistic record be kept on a registered gun, clarifies safe-storage requirements and makes clear that a “carry” license is not required to have guns in the home.

City officials said the legislation will “clarify that firearms in the home must be stored unloaded and either disassembled (or) secured with a trigger lock, gun safe or similar device,” with an exception made for a firearm used against a “reasonably-perceived threat” of immediate harm to a person within a registered gun owner’s home.

Mike Stollenwerk, co-founder of OpenCarry.org, said the bill “doesn’t comply with the [court’s] decision.”

“They’re only meeting this thing halfway,” he said.

Georgetown University’s law school, said the new storage requirements appear to be reasonable restrictions permitted under the court’s decision.

“What the court ultimately said is that people have the right to possess handguns in their home and the state cannot unreasonably interfere with that right,” he said. “I think the District has a good argument that this is not inconsistent with the thrust of the Supreme Court’s ruling.”

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said even gun manufacturers recommend safe-storage measures and that the city’s revised proposals appear to satisfy the high court’s ruling.

Still, Mr. Helmke said, he would not be surprised by legal challenges.

“It looks like they’ve tried to rewrite their legislation to comply with the court ruling [while] making as few changes as possible,” he said. “It looks like they wrote it in such a way that it should comply with what Justice Scalia said.”

If the 13-member D.C. Council passes the legislation as expected Tuesday, residents would be allowed to register their handguns as early as Wednesday.

“It’s important to remember it’s a 90-day bill because I think we have to address a number of things,” said D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the council’s public safety committee.

Mr. Mendelson said he does not think the council will need to reconvene during its summer recess, which begins this week, to address issues with the bill. However, he was not sure whether the public safety committee would need to meet to address any issues.

Under the bill, residents will be allowed to register only one handgun each to prevent the Metropolitan Police Department from being overwhelmed by applications. The limit likely will be removed from the permanent legislation.

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said the registration process could take weeks or months and would depend on such factors as whether an applicant is buying a new gun or buying outside of the District.

Chief Lanier also said the department will grant a six-month amnesty to residents who want to register otherwise legal handguns and who have not been able to do so.

The department will conduct the ballistic tests on a gun submitted for registration to determine whether “it is stolen or has been used in a crime,” according to the proposed legislation.

Automatic and semiautomatic handguns remain illegal because they meet the District’s definition of a machine gun, an issue several gun advocates said they intend to challenge.

The proposed legislation reads: “Sawed-off shotguns, machine guns and short-barreled rifles are still prohibited.”

Mr. Cox said his organization would challenge the laws in court if necessary and would not rule out seeking an injunction to stop implementation of the emergency rules.

“We look forward to working with Congress to address this issue, and if the need arises we look forward to pursuing legal action against Mayor Fenty and the District,” he said.

The NRA followed the Supreme Court’s ruling by filing lawsuits in cities including San Francisco to challenge their statutes.

Reps. Mike Ross, Arkansas Democrat, have introduced a bill in Congress that seeks to restrict how the District can govern guns in the city.

The bill aims to repeal the District’s ban on semiautomatic weapons and reform the D.C. Council’s authority to restrict firearms, among other actions.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said the measure has no chance of passage in the Democrat-controlled Congress and infringes on the District’s right of home rule.

The bill “is proof that some members either don’t have enough to do or know no bounds to their capacity for disrespect for democracy in the nation’s capital,” said Mrs. Norton, a Democrat.

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