Tuesday, July 15, 2008

How tightly can you regulate a right?

The U.S. Supreme Court may have finally recognized the right to bear arms as protected by the Second Amendment, but the D.C. city government seems determined to put the concept of "constitutionally protected right" to the test. Mayor Fenty's wish-list of proposed regulations are certainly preferable to the outright ban on handguns the city imposed for 32 years, but they seem a bit more restrictive than you'd expect to be permissible for the exercise of a right rather than a privilege.
The proposed legislation has four main components:
1. Continues to ban handguns in most places but creates an exception for self-defense in the home. The handgun ban remains in effect, except for use in self-defense within the home. Sawed-off shotguns, machine guns and short-barreled rifles are still prohibited.

2. Requires the Metropolitan Police Department to perform ballistic testing on handguns and makes such testing a registration requirement. The Chief of Police will require ballistics tests of any handgun submitted for registration to determine if it is stolen or has been used in a crime. Also, to serve as many residents as possible, the Chief will limit registrations to one handgun per person for the first 90 days after the legislation becomes law.

3. Clarifies the safe-storage and trigger-lock requirements. The legislation modifies existing law to clarify that firearms in the home must be stored unloaded and either disassembled secured with a trigger lock, gun safe, or similar device. An exception is made for a firearm while it is being used against reasonably perceived threat of immediate harm to a person within a registered gun owner’s home. The bill also includes provisions on the transportation of firearms for legal purposes.

4. Clarifies that no carry license is required inside the home. Residents who legally register handguns in the District will not be required to have licenses to carry them inside their own homes.
You mean D.C. residents won't be prosecuted if they take their locked or disassembled pistols from the living room to the bed room? Oh joy!

Requirements for actually registering that piece of iron you've been stashing (there's an amnesty provision) or plan to purchase are ... convoluted and detailed. For example:
1. Provisions for registering a handgun purchased for self-defense in a District residence.
a. A District resident who seeks to register a handgun must obtain an application form from MPD’s Firearms Registration Section and take it to a firearms dealer for assistance in completing it.

b. The applicant must submit photos, proof of residency and proof of good vision (such as a driver’s license or doctor’s letter), and pass a written firearms test.

c. If the applicant is successful on the test, s(he) must pay registration fees and submit to fingerprinting. MPD will file one set of fingerprints and submit the other to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for analysis and criminal background check.

d. MPD will notify the applicant whether all registration requirements are satisfied. At that point, the applicant returns to the Firearms Registration Section to complete the process and receive MPD’s seal on the application.

e. The applicant takes his or her completed application to a licensed firearm dealer to take delivery of the pistol. If the dealer is outside the District, the dealer transports the pistol to a licensed dealer in the District to complete the transaction.

f. The applicant takes the pistol to the Firearms Registration Section for ballistics testing. When testing is complete, the applicant may retrieve the pistol and take it home.
The proposed rules actually remind me of the current New York City restrictions, which I navigated a decade ago with the help of a hired middleman and a fair amount of money that went to unknown uses (greased palms, I assumed). New York's rules are explicitly designed to discourage gun ownership -- although they just discourage legal gun ownership and leave most folks outside the law.

I would expect New York's rules to be challenged in the wake of Heller, with D.C. to follow if it adopts Fenty's scheme.



Anonymous qlajlu said...

Someone explain to me just how this is any better than an outright ban on firearms. The hoops in place are so restrictive that they make a virtual ban. This accomplishes nothing. And NO ONE seems to know what is on the written test or at least no one has mentioned a concern over it. That test alone could be so convoluted that no one could pass it thereby making the applicant ineligible for owning a firearm. I cannot see, for the life of me, how this conforms to the spirit of the SCOTUS ruling on the Second Amendment case of Heller.

July 16, 2008 7:27 AM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

I'd say D.C.'s proposed rules are marginally better than an outright ban to the extent that some people will be able to navigate them and legally arm themselves. But you're right -- I don't see how these proposals conform to the Heller decision at all. If bearing arms is a right, it can't be made dependent on negotiating a byzantine maze of requirements clearly set up as a barrier to exercising that right. Ultimately, these rules are likely to be applied just the way New York City applies its rules: to reserve legal status for the "right" people -- those with connections, money and clout.

July 16, 2008 7:08 PM  

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