In America's Murder Capital, at least one of the many crimes of an incompetent government has been addressed – and a lot of citizens in Washington, D.C. are breathing a bit easier. Earlier this week the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals declared the city's decades-old ban on personal firearms in the home to be unconstitutional.
The ban was instituted in 1977 and prohibited keeping handguns or even an assembled rifle or shotgun in the home, making citizens subject to arrest just for exercising their Constitutional right to self-defense. Perhaps worst of all, despite the ban, the District consistently had one of the highest urban murder rates in the nation, as well as extraordinary levels of gun violence and property crime. Crime nationwide has been on the decline, but DC still leads other cities of similar size in almost every category. In that kind of environment, prohibiting citizens from protecting themselves and their property was the worst kind of governmental irresponsibility.
The majority opinion declared that the right to bear arms applied to all individuals and was inviolable and in no way dependent on militia service or other qualifications beyond the desire to provide for self-defense. The justices wrote in their conclusion:
We conclude that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. That right existed prior to the formation of the new government under the Constitution and was premised on the private use of arms for activities such as hunting and self-defense, the latter being understood as resistance to either private lawlessness or the depredations of a tyrannical government (or a threat from abroad). In addition, the right to keep and bear arms had the important and salutary civic purpose of helping to preserve the citizen militia. The civic purpose was also a political expedient for the Federalists in the First Congress as it served, in part, to placate their Anti-federalist opponents. The individual right facilitated militia service by ensuring that citizens would not be barred from keeping the arms they would need when called forth for militia duty. Despite the importance of the Second Amendment's civic purpose, however, the activities it protects are not limited to militia service, nor is an individual's enjoyment of the right contingent upon his or her continued or intermittent enrollment in the militia."
This ruling follows the reasoning of the 2001 ruling in U.S. v. Emerson which held that "All of the evidence indicates that the Second Amendment, like other parts of the Bill of Rights, applies to and protects individual Americans…The history of the Second Amendment reinforces the plain meaning of its text, namely that it protects individual Americans in their right to keep and bear arms…."
The implications of this ruling are significant, because of the finding that the Second Amendment applies universally to all individuals and is not based on membership in a militia: an argument frequently raised against universal gun rights. It should provide substantial weight to cases against similar gun bans in other jurisdictions, especially coming on the heels of the Superior Court negation of the San Francisco gun ban last year.
The importance of this ruling for citizens was summed up by one of the six plaintiffs, Tom Palmer. He had been assaulted and wanted a gun in his house for protection, but the law kept him vulnerable and afraid. He commented, "The fact is that the criminals don't obey the law and they do have guns. It's the law-abiding citizens who are disarmed by this law." Now the court has given hope back to those citizens.
To reinforce the rights of citizens in the District, Congressmen Mike Ross (D-AR) and Mike Ross (D-IN) have introduced H.R. 1399, the "District of Columbia Personal Protection Act," which would formalize recognition of the validity of the Second Amendment rights of the residents of the District of Columbia, clarifying questions about whether the protections of the Bill of Rights apply in DC. Supporters of the gun ban had argued that residents of the District did not enjoy the full protection of the Constitution because of the District's unique status under direct federal administration. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) commented:
"The Constitution guarantees law-abiding citizens the right to bear arms and defend themselves. That is why next week I will reintroduce my legislation to repeal the existing ban. Protection of constitutional rights does not cease when you cross into the borders of the District of Columbia. Not only is Washington, D.C.’s gun ban unconstitutional, but it also has been a public policy failure as seen in the rise in crime since its enactment. The time has finally come to change course."
The legislation is expected to have strong support in the House and Senate, but it couldn't hurt to write your representatives to encourage them to support it. Previous versions have passed the House with strong bipartisan support, but the bill has never made it to the Senate floor for a vote.