Washington's One New Pistol a Month Law Ruled Unconstitutional

Updated on
  • Other gun limits in nation's capital survive appellate review
  • DC lost argument that limiting guns in home is for safety

The District of Columbia’s attempt to limit registration of pistols to one a month was ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court that upheld other restrictions on gun ownership.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, ruling in a challenge by a gun rights advocate who won a Supreme Court case seven years ago, said Friday the District of Columbia can require registration of long guns and mandate that those registering guns appear in person to be photographed and fingerprinted. In a case watched by other states and gun groups, the three-judge panel agreed with a lower court that those measures advance public safety.

The district enacted the limits after the Supreme Court invalidated its near-total ban on handguns in 2008. The mixed outcome left the laws’ challengers and defender each claiming a partial victory.

Two of three judges on the panel rejected the district’s argument that the one-per-month rule would limit the number of guns in a home and the potential for homicide, suicide and accidental injury.

“Taken to its logical conclusion, that reasoning would justify a total ban on firearms in the home,” U.S. Circuit Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote.

Second Amendment

U.S. Circuit Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson disagreed on that point, saying the provision imposes little burden on gun rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the Constitution while making handgun trafficking more difficult.

The appellate court also upheld a requirement that those who register guns complete a firearms safety and training course, while overturning a provision limiting registration to those who pass a test on the district’s gun laws.

Dan Peterson, a Fairfax, Virginia-based lawyer for gun-rights activist Dick Heller, said the court struck down provisions that “will substantially reduce the burden on firearms owners in the district without adversely affecting public safety.”

The district’s attorney general, Karl Racine, also claimed some success, saying in a statement that the court in two decisions has now upheld registration requirements for all firearms. The earlier ruling came in 2011.

“We will continue to defend our gun laws against challenges from those who would impose their views on our residents,” he said, adding that the entire law should have been upheld.

In an earlier case brought by Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 struck down a near-absolute District of Columbia handgun ban, ruling 5-4 that the Constitution protects the right of people to keep guns in their homes for self-defense.

States including New York, California, Massachusetts and Connecticut filed briefs in supports of the district’s law, as did the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Washington-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and other organizations seeking to curb gun use.

Among those backing Heller were the National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of America Inc., the Conservative Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Pink Pistols, a gay-rights group that supports gun rights.

The case is Heller v. District of Columbia, 14-7071, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia (Washington).