Washington Gun Owners’ Appeal Seeks to Weaken Limits

Gun owners in Washington told a federal appeals court that the city’s firearm registration process and a ban on some assault rifles violate their constitutional rights.

The lawyer for Dick Heller, the plaintiff in a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2008 that expanded Second Amendment rights, argued to the three-judge panel today that the District of Columbia’s regulations are so burdensome that gun owners are deprived of their constitutional rights. The rules are inconsistent with high court rulings, including Heller’s earlier case, he said.

The lawsuit, dubbed Heller II by gun rights advocates, seeks to overturn restrictions the city imposed after Heller’s Supreme Court victory ended Washington’s almost total ban on guns.

“The district responded to the Supreme Court’s decision in D.C. v. Heller by passing the most radically restrictive gun law nationwide,” Heller’s lawyer, Stephen Halbrook told the three- judge panel today.

If the appeals court side with Heller again, gun rights activists in other jurisdictions would have an influential ruling to build on, Halbroook in an interview.

Fingerprints, Photos

Washington requires residents who want to keep a gun at home to be fingerprinted and photographed by police, provide a five-year work history, and note their intended use of the weapon. Residents must register every firearm they own every three years. Applicants must allow police to run ballistic tests on each gun they register. Firearms defined by the city as assault weapons and magazines that hold more than 10 bullets are banned.

Halbrook told the judges the Supreme Court determined the Second Amendment right to own a gun is a fundamental right, limiting the scope of government restrictions.

The solicitor general for the District of Columbia, Todd Kim, replied that the city has authority to keep tabs on who owns guns within its borders and to keep out certain types of weapons.

“Our constitution guarantees a right to keep and bear arms, but not to keep guns secret from the government or possess military style weapons and high capacity magazines,” Kim said in court.

Heller filed the current challenge in July 2008, just 12 days after Washington lawmakers passed emergency legislation to comply with the high court ruling in the first Heller case. A federal trial judge dismissed the case in March after finding that the city’s regulations were an appropriate balance between public safety and an individual’s right to own a gun.

The case is Heller v. District of Columbia 10-07036, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

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