Since the Supreme Court recognized in D.C. v. Heller that law-abiding, responsible citizens have a right to possess a gun in the home for self-defense, the corporate gun lobby has sought to expand that ruling into a broad, unchecked right to carry guns in public spaces. The Brady Center along with numerous law firms, including Hogan Lovells LLP, assists local governments across the country in defending sensible public carry regulations.
After several years of litigation over Washington D.C.’s handgun restrictions, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own a handgun in the home for self-defense. Although the decision was groundbreaking, it was also narrow; the Court made clear that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as a schools or government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” In a footnote, the Court importantly explained that these regulations are “presumptively lawful” and serve “only as examples,” and not an “exhaustive” list. While a flood of litigation attacking gun laws has followed the Heller decision, this critical language from the Court has guided lower courts to reject the vast majority of these challenges.
After Heller, the D.C. Council amended its gun laws and adopted a new set of regulations, creating a gun law regime that allows the private possession of firearms in the home, while requiring registration of all handguns as well as fingerprinting and training classes for gun owners, prohibiting registration of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, limiting registration to one handgun per 30 day period, and other important provisions.
Immediately after the initial passage of D.C.’s new laws in July 2008, the same plaintiffs from the Heller case filed a challenge in federal district court, which became known as Heller II. On March 26, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina denied the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment in the case, finding that the new laws are constitutional. Following the plaintiffs’ appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the Brady Center filed an amicus brief in support of the laws on September 20, 2010, and filed a supplemental brief at the appeals court’s request on January 14, 2011.
On October 4, 2011, the D.C. Circuit upheld the majority of D.C.’s laws, including the prohibition on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and found that D.C. had the authority to mandate handgun registration. The Court remanded the case to the district court for further discovery on the remaining provisions, including registration for long guns, the one gun per month rule, and other registration and gun purchase rules. The case on remand became known as “Heller III.”
On May 15, 2014, Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of D.C. and upheld the remaining laws in a powerful 62-page opinion. The plaintiffs have appealed the decision to the D.C. Circuit, where the Brady Center, joined by a broad coalition of gun violence prevention groups from across the country, filed an amicus brief supporting the laws on December 12, 2014. Oral arguments were held before the D.C. Circuit in April 2015. A decision is forthcoming.
Attorneys with the firm WilmerHale have provided invaluable assistance to the Brady Center in defending D.C.’s gun laws for more than a decade.