DC Gun Laws Hold Up in Round One Against Latest Legal Attack

By SARAH KARUSH
|  Friday, Mar 26, 2010  |  Updated 8:16 PM EDT
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DC Gun Laws Hold Up in Round One Against Latest Legal Attack

Kirk Weddle

A federal judge on Friday upheld limitations on gun ownership that the District of Columbia put in place following a 2008 Supreme Court decision overturning the city's outright ban on handguns.

Dick Heller, the plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case, had challenged the new regulations, claiming the registration procedures, a ban on most semiautomatic weapons and other limitations violated the intent of the high court's decision.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina sided with the city, saying the Supreme Court decision did not ban reasonable limits on gun ownership designed to promote public safety.

"While the (Supreme) Court recognized that the Second Amendment protects a natural right of an individual to keep and bear arms in the home in defense of self, family and property, it cautioned that that right is not unlimited," he wrote.

The decision by Urbina, who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, moves the case along what is likely to be a lengthy path through the legal system.

"We fully expect to go the Court of Appeals," said Heller's lawyer Richard E. Gardiner.

Urbina's opinion "misinterprets Heller altogether," Gardiner said, referring to the Supreme Court decision. In particular, he took issue with the judge's observation that the Supreme Court did not explicitly declare the Second Amendment right to be "fundamental."

"It's clearly a fundamental right because it's in the Bill of Rights," Gardiner said.

The Supreme Court struck down a 32-year-old ban on handguns in Washington and a requirement that all firearms, including rifles and shotguns, be kept disassembled or bound by a trigger lock. In the wake of the ruling, the D.C. Council moved quickly to pass new regulations.

The plaintiffs claimed the new process for registering guns -- which includes fingerprinting, vision tests, background checks and other requirements, and which limits people to registering one pistol per month -- was too burdensome.

But Urbina found the process served "the well-established goal of promoting public safety."

The plaintiffs also challenged the city's ban on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition feeding devices. Urbina said the Supreme Court made clear the Second Amendment doesn't protect ownership of "dangerous or unusual" weapons.

Heller, a security guard, brought the suit that ended up in the Supreme Court after the city rejected his application to keep a handgun at his Capitol Hill home. Under the current regulations, he was denied registration of certain firearms because they are categorized as assault weapons. Three other D.C. residents joined him in the suit.

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