What Happens When The Supreme Court Rules on District of Columbia v. Heller

“Ride Fast” at Ride Fast & Shoot Straight asks “So what might happen if we win?

Let's look at the individual laws in question, because we're looking at three rulings here, if not quite a few more.

First there's D.C. Code sec. 7-2502.02(a)(4):

§ 7-2502.02. Registration of certain firearms prohibited.
(a) A registration certificate shall not be issued for a:
  (4) Pistol not validly registered to the current registrant in the District prior to September 24, 1976, except that the provisions of this section shall not apply to any organization that employs at least 1 commissioned special police officer or other employee licensed to carry a firearm and that arms the employee with a firearm during the employee's duty hours or to a police officer who has retired from the Metropolitan Police Department.

This does not allow the registration of handguns after 1976. If this tiny but evil piece of code is found unconstitutional I believe it implies that banning guns by not allowing registration is illegal. The first policy item that comes to mind similar to this is the outright refusal of BATFE to register fully-automatic firearms made since 1986. Overturning this tiny piece of code does not make registration unconstitutional, however, it just makes it inappropriate to say “all x must be registered and by the way you can't register it.”

There's history here that can be leveraged, for example the egregious requirements like poll taxes used to deter people from voting. If we lose this one the tactic of registration leading to de facto bans would be affirmed.

What's not being looked at here is the separate numbers in this piece of code which banned other types of firearms than pistols. We don't get to look at sawed-off shotguns or assault rifles this time, sorry.

It's possible we can look at the registration question here, but I doubt it. Getting a consensus amongst five justices often requires very narrow looks at the questions at hand.

Next is D.C. Code sec. 22-4504(a):

§ 22-4504. Carrying concealed weapons; possession of weapons during commission of crime of violence; penalty.
(a) No person shall carry within the District of Columbia either openly or concealed on or about their person, a pistol, without a license issued pursuant to District of Columbia law, or any deadly or dangerous weapon capable of being so concealed. Whoever violates this section shall be punished as provided in § 22-4515, except that:
  (1) A person who violates this section by carrying a pistol, without a license issued pursuant to District of Columbia law, or any deadly or dangerous weapon, in a place other than the person's dwelling place, place of business, or on other land possessed by the person, shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both; or
  (2) If the violation of this section occurs after a person has been convicted in the District of Columbia of a violation of this section or of a felony, either in the District of Columbia or another jurisdiction, the person shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both.

This prohibits carry, open or concealed, of a firearm in any place other than their home, property, or place of business. It also prohibits the carry, open or concealed, of an unlicensed pistol on even those sanctuaries. This piece of code could get partititioned and we'd be looking at the possibility of having a constitutional right to bear arms on our own property, but not elsewhere. We could also look at the question of licensure in this one. The vast swathes of concealed carry legislation are not being considered here so I'd again expect a fairly limited look. A constitutional protection for carrying on gun on your own property without a license is what I would expect.

Finally there is D.C. Code sec. 7-2507.02:

§ 7-2507.02. Firearms required to be unloaded and disassembled or locked.
Except for law enforcement personnel described in § 7-2502.01(b)(1), each registrant shall keep any firearm in his possession unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device unless such firearm is kept at his place of business, or while being used for lawful recreational purposes within the District of Columbia.

This essentially penalizes people that don't disable their firearms so they cannot be readily used. Winning this one would imply a constitutional protection for unfettered access to one's firearms. Such a ruling might stop one particular “slippery slope”-style incursion on firearms ownership, although I believe that one should secure ones firearms away from misuse by others anyway. Losing this one allows for the slippery slope to continue.

That's essentially it. As one would expect the slices of gun laws being examined are quite limited and the implications of protection from a Supreme Court ruling are similarly limited. Some folks are hoping for rubber-stamping the removal of all gun laws, or the outright ban of guns, but neither is likely from this case. I doubt any case would make it to the Supreme Court with such far-reaching potential.

Josh Poulson

Posted Wednesday, Nov 21 2007 06:39 AM

Adjacent entries


« Supreme Court To Hear District of Columbia v. Heller
Milton Friedman Choir on School Choice »





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