Federal court strikes down some D.C. gun laws
September 18, 2015
In a mixed decision, a federal appeals court on Friday struck
down as unconstitutional several strict gun registration laws in
the nation's capital, but upheld other restrictions aimed at
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
ruled 2-1 that the city cannot ban gun owners from registering
more than one pistol per month or require owners to re-register
a gun every three years. The court also invalidated requirements
that owners make a personal appearance to register a gun and
pass a test about firearms laws.
But the court upheld other parts of the law, such as requiring
that so-called long guns -- including rifles and shotguns -- be
registered along with handguns. The ruling also allows gun
owners to be fingerprinted and photographed, pay certain fees
and complete a firearms safety training course.
In all, the court upheld six gun laws and struck down four.
The District of Columbia put the registration laws in place
after a landmark 2008 Supreme Court decision that struck down a
32-year-old handgun ban in the District of Columbia. The high
court ruled in that case the Second Amendment protects handgun
possession for self-defense in the home.
A federal judge had previously upheld all the new registration
District of Columbia officials argued that the laws were aimed
at preserving gun owners' constitutional rights while also
protecting the community from gun violence.
But writing for the appeals court majority, Judge Douglas
Ginsburg said some of the laws did not pass constitutional
muster. He rejected, for example, the city's argument that the
one-pistol-per-month rule would reduce illegal trafficking in
"The suggestion that a gun trafficker would bring fewer guns
into the District because he could not register more than one
per month there lacks the support of experience and of common
sense," Ginsburg said.
Ginsburg, who was appointed by President Ronald Regan, was
joined by Judge Patricia Millett, an appointee of President
Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, named to the court President
George H. W. Bush, dissented in part, saying she would have
upheld all the registration laws. She said the majority should
have shown more deference to public officials trying to create a
workable firearms policy.
Henderson noted that Washington is different from other
jurisdictions given the "unique security risks" in a city filled
with high-level government officials, diplomats, monuments and
government buildings that ban guns.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said she was not surprised by the
decision after she was informed of the ruling during a radio
"Our gun laws have been under attack for many years," Bowser
said. "We obviously disagree."
Bowser, a Democrat, said the District of Columbia Council should
be free to pass laws with "reasonable restrictions" on gun
ownership in their city.
Only six states and the District require gun owners to register
some or all firearms, according to the San Francisco-based Law
Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The District is one of only a
few places -- including Hawaii and California -- that also have
registration requirements for rifles and shotguns.
Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA Law School,
said that while the ruling may be a setback for the District it
shows that courts are willing to uphold some restrictions on gun
owners that enhance public safety.
"This decision leaves little doubt that gun registration is
constitutionally permissible," Winkler said. "States that want
to require gun owners to register their guns will be buoyed by
Winkler said it may be the final ruling on Washington's gun laws
because the Supreme Court has shown little interest in taking up
gun cases over the past few years.
The latest lawsuit was brought by Dick Heller, the same man who
challenged the city's handgun ban and won before the U.S.
It was the second time the appeals court had considered the
registration laws. In 2011, the court upheld the
constitutionality of the basic registration requirement for
handguns, but sent the case back to a lower court so city
officials could explain why the various other restrictions were
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