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May 17, 2010

Interesting data and discussion about guns in DC roughly two years after Heller

With Graham and Comstock now decided, I think the biggest constitutional law case still pending for con law and criminal justice fans is probably the McDonald Second Amendment incorporation case.  (There are a bunch of other significant SCOTUS sentencing cases still pending --- BarberCarr, Dillon, Dolan to name a few --- but I suspect most of these will be decided on relatively narrow grounds.)   And with McDonald on the horizon, I found these data and discussions from this Wall Street Journal article about DC's post-Heller gun regulations quite interesting:

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the District of Columbia's 32-year ban on handguns in 2008, a victory for the gun-rights lobby that seemed to promise a more permissive era in America's long tussle over gun ownership. Since then, the city has crafted rules that are proving a new, powerful deterrent to residents who want to buy firearms....

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's non-voting representative in Congress, is blunt about the point of the city's laws: discouraging gun ownership. "To get them you have to go through a bureaucracy that makes it difficult," she said in an interview. Her constituents tend to oppose firearms because of gun violence, she said. "Nobody thinks we would have fewer shootings and fewer homicides if we had more relaxed gun laws."

Kenneth Barnes, 65, became a D.C. gun-law activist after his son was shot to death in his clothing store in 2001. He supports the city's current gun law. "I have no issue with the right to bear arms," but the Supreme Court's decision gave the city the right to set gun laws for its citizens, he said. "What we're talking about is self determination."

In 2009, the first full year the law was in effect, homicides in the city dropped to 143 from 186 in 2008. The 2009 total was the lowest since 1966....

Gun-control supporters say the District is acting within the Constitution, in that Heller didn't outlaw all gun control. "From our perspective, there's a broad range of gun-control steps that can be taken that would be constitutional post-Heller," said Chad Ramsey of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said the city's new rules strike against the spirit of the Supreme Court's decision. "Can you go out and buy guns in D.C. and defend yourself as the Supreme Court said you should be able to? No. The citizens can't experience the freedom from a practical level. What good is winning it philosophically?"

In the months since the Heller decision through April, the city has registered 1,071 guns, including 756 handguns and 315 "long" guns, such as rifles. That's a rate of about 181 guns per 100,000 residents. Before the Supreme Court decision, the rate of registered guns in Washington was close to zero.

Across the U.S., federal law-enforcement agencies estimate the total number of guns is between 200 million and 350 million, which results in a rate between 65,000 to 114,000 guns per 100,000 people nationally.  A 2006 survey by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center found gun ownership in 34% of all homes.

Right now, the legal advantage lies with the District. In a federal District Court ruling in March, Judge Ricardo Urbina upheld the city's gun law, writing that the Supreme Court didn't rule gun registration "unconstitutional as a general matter."  The judge concluded the city had the power to limit the kinds of firearms permissible and the size of ammunition magazines.

As regular readers know, I think many of the federal and state laws that categorically prohibit and threaten to severely punish any non-violent felon who takes possession of any kind of gun "strike[s] against the spirit of the Supreme Court's decision."  But, because dicta in Heller suggests that these laws were not unconstitutional as a general matter, those federal laws continue to operate to prevent millions of persons from keeping and bearing arms.  If (and when) the McDonald Second Amendment incorporation case opens up constitutional attacks on these laws at the state level, a cottage industry of gun regulation litigation is sure to ensue.

May 17, 2010 at 06:00 PM | Permalink

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Comments

"Nobody thinks we would have fewer shootings and fewer homicides if we had more relaxed gun laws."

I don't think it's accurate to say "nobody thinks" that. Many, many people do, as this blog highlighted just a few days ago:
http://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/2010/05/heller-mcdonald-and-murder-testing-the-more-guns-more-murder-thesis.html#comments

My newest attempt at extending Heller to federal laws: 18 USC 922(g)(5) (prohibing non-immigrant aliens from firearm possession).

Posted by: DEJ | May 17, 2010 6:47:33 PM

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