Friday, June 27, 2008
Lawyers Expect Challenges in Light of High Court Gun Ruling
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Legal experts on both sides of the gun ownership debate agree that following the United States Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision yesterday upholding an individual’s right to possess a handgun in District of Colombia v. Heller 07-290, will spawn a wave of litigation against state and local government run restrictions. (See related story, Page 5.)
Long Beach attorney and longtime gun rights advocate Chuck Michel, of Trutanich-Michel LLP, said he plans to file a lawsuit today in state court on behalf of the National Rifle Association, challenging San Francsico’s ban of all firearms in public housing, to resolve the question of whether the Fourteenth Amendment will apply the ruling to the states.
There were divergent opinions on how far courts would go in scrutinizing state and local regulations.
Mike Hammond, legislative director for Gun Owners of America Inc., which filed an amicus brief in the case, suggested that “any jurisdiction that has passed onerous antigun legislation has reason to be concerned,” following the court’s decision.
However, UCLA Law School Professor Adam Winkler opined that the court’s ruling was “more symbolic than substantive,” in that it “declares a broad individual right to bear arms, but doesn’t actually restrict very many forms of gun control.”
The court was “pretty unclear” about when local gun control laws will run afoul of this newly recognized constitutional right, Winkler said, and “went out of its way to say certain bans were constitutional.”
In his opinion for the majority of the court, Justice Antolin Scalia wrote, “[N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
American Bar Association President William H. Neukom of San Francisco said the court’s decision “is not a signal to rescind regulation or ignore legitimate restrictions on gun ownership and use that are grounded in reason and practicality,” in a release.
NAACP Legal Defense Fund President and Director-Counsel John Payton opined that the court’s ruling “leaves available a variety of tools for combating the serious problem of gun violence in this country, including exacting handgun regulations and absolute bans on other weapons,” in a release as well.
Winkler said that nothing in the court’s opinion makes clear that any of California’s laws are unconstitutional,” and that “much in the opinion suggests that California’s laws, like most of the gun control laws in the nation, are constitutionally sound.”
While he noted “California has relatively strict gun control laws,” he said they were “nothing quite as onerous” as Washington D.C.’s. He suggested that the court’s decision may be restricted to Washington’s gun law, or a similar one in Chicago.
His UCLA colleague, UCLA Eugene Volokh, who writes frequently on gun issues, agreed. The court’s decision only struck down “very broad” gun bans, he said, and predicted California’s “more modest” regulations would be upheld, with the exception of California’s ban on semi-automatic weapons.
Hammond similarly suggested that that California’s “semi-draconian” ban of semi-automatic weapons would “be up for grabs.”
Michel opined that more California regulations were vulnerable. He theorized that any law banning certain types of firearms or firearms in certain locations would be struck down. “Prohibitions have never worked,” he said. “They didn’t work for alcohol, and they don’t work for drugs,” therefore, he reasoned, they would be ineffective for firearms.
Winkler suggested that there may be some challenges to a ban on weapons possession in public parks, while Michel predicted challenges to the state’s licensing practices for concealed weapons permits.
“We have a lot of litigation in front of us. The right isn’t absolute, that much is clear. We’ll be spending the next 50 years debating whether this law is okay or not.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein suggested as much in a statement criticizing yesterday’s decision for “open[ing] the door for litigation against every gun safety law that states have passed - assault weapons bans, trigger locks, and all the rest of it,” in a statement issued yesterday.
The case was filed by Dick Heller, a Washington D.C. special policeman and six other D.C. residents who wanted to keep handguns in their homes. The district’s law prohibited private ownership of any guns that were not registered before 1976, and required that all guns already registered be disassembled, unloaded, or secured by a trigger lock. The Federal District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the ban, but the Court of Appeal reversed.
The last time the Supreme Court addressed a Second Amendment right to bear arms case was in 1939.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company