Limited gun ruling urged
The District of Columbia government on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to address only a single issue, if it agrees to hear the city’s appeal seeking to reinstate its flat ban on private possession of handguns. In a reply brief, found here, city officials contended that the only issue the Court need decide is the meaning of the Second Amendment as it applies directly to the city’s specific ban on pistols. This would involve an inquiry aimed at what the Amendment’s words mean, “construed in light of their history, purpose, and place in this Nation’s tradition.”
This was the final legal document expected to be filed before the Court acts on the city’s appeal in District of Columbia v. Heller (07-290). The Court may indicate as early as Wednesday when it will examine the appeal to decide whether to hear it. It is possible it will be set for the Nov. 9 Conference of the Justices.
The Court is likely to act at the same time on a cross-appeal that a group of D.C. residents, who challenged the handgun ban, have filed seeking to raise issues about who may bring lawsuits in federal courts in Washington, D.C. — an issue about who has “standing.” The District opposes review of that plea (Parker v. District of Columbia, 07-335).
In arguing that the city’s own case be kept within limits, District Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and other top officials were resisting a suggestion made by the challengers that the Court should not only examine the handgun ban, but also decide whether other provisions of local gun control law make it impossible as a practical matter for individuals to use any kind of firearm — not just pistols — for self-defense in an emergency.
The reply brief insisted that the city does not ban all “functional” firearms — that is, those other than handguns that could be used for self-defense. “District residents may use lawfully registered rifles and shotguns in self-defense,” the city officials contended.
Most of the reply brief, as is usual for such documents, was written to respond to points made in the D.C. residents’ response to the city appeal. The challengers to the handgun law want the Court to hear the case, but to enlarge what it will consider. The two sides have suggested differing questions.
It may be that the Justices, if they do, indeed, agree to rule on the law’s constitutionality, will rewrite the question or questions they would be prepared to answer. That can only be known when an order issues.