The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled this week that it is unconstitutional for the District government to restrict handgun licenses only to citizens who can prove a “special need for self-protection distinguishable from the general community as supported by evidence of specific threats or previous attacks that demonstrate a special danger to the applicant’s life.” D.C. now must follow a standard system approved by the Supreme Court as not unduly burdensome to Second Amendment rights: issuing permits to adults who pass a fingerprint-based background check and a safety training class.
You can read the whole opinion here. Two cases were under scrutiny: Wrenn v. District of Columbia and Matthew Grace and Pink Pistols v. District of Columbia. Circuit Judge Thomas B. Griffith wrote the opinion and was joined by Senior Judge Stephen F. Williams. Judge Karen LeCraft. Judge Karen Henderson, a Republican appointee, dissented.
This is a liberal court, but it properly upheld the Second Amendment while slapping down anti-gun talking points that I have always found obnoxious and totalitarian in spirit. “Why does anyone need a gun? Why do they need a semi-automatic weapon? Why do they need so much ammunition? I don’t need a gun. Guns are dangerous. If I don’t need one, you don’t need one.”
The government doesn’t have the right to tell me what I need. Strangers don’t get to tell me that my needs are unreasonable based on their beliefs and biases. In 2013, playwright and screenwriter David Mamet wrote an op-ed for Newsweek nicely articulating these principles. (If it is still available in its entirety, I lack the cleverness to find it. [UPDATE: Reader Frank Stephens was clever enough, and the link is here]. Newsweek banished the article to its ally The Daily Beast, where all links, including in my post about it, lead. That link is now dead: it just goes to the website. I searched the Daily Beast for the article: it isn’t there. But, oddly, a rebuttal to the article is. I suppose this is how the news media silences the apostates in its midst. Fortunately, this passage survives:
The so-called assault weapons ban is a hoax. It is a political appeal to the ignorant…Will increased cosmetic measures make anyone safer? They, like all efforts at disarmament, will put the citizenry more at risk. Disarmament rests on the assumption that all people are good, and, basically, want the same things. But if all people were basically good, why would we, increasingly, pass more and more elaborate laws?
The individual is not only best qualified to provide his own personal defense, he is the only one qualified to do so: and his right to do so is guaranteed by the Constitution.President Obama seems to understand the Constitution as a “set of suggestions.” I cannot endorse his performance in office, but he wins my respect for taking those steps he deems necessary to ensure the safety of his family. Why would he want to prohibit me from doing the same?
Bingo. And the D.C. Circuit opinion supports this. The Second Amendment presumes a right to self-defense, and thus no citizen has to prove that he or she “needs” to arm. Wrote the Court:
[T]he District’s good-reason law bars most people from exercising this right at all. To be sure, the good-reason law leaves each D.C. resident some remote chance of one day carrying in self-defense, but that isn’t the question. The Second Amendment doesn’t secure a right to have some chance at self-defense. Again, at a minimum the Amendment’s core must protect carrying given the risks and needs typical of law-abiding citizens. That is a right that most D.C. residents can never exercise, by the law’s very design. In this way, the District’s regulation completely prohibits most residents from exercising the constitutional right to bear arms…
Interestingly, the lone conservative dissenter argued that Courts are overstepping proper bounds by containing a legislature on gun control, even when it chooses to restrict the Bill of Rights. Of this Reason notes,
Don’t be surprised by those political affiliations. Judicial deference to majoritarian government has been a touchstone in Republican and conservative legal circles for decades. Chief Justice John Roberts clearly demonstrated that in 2012, when he upheld the constitutionality of Obamacare on the grounds that “it is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”
Of course, other Republicans and conservatives (not to mention libertarians) believe that it is the job of the courts to deny certain political choices when those choices violate constitutional rights or exceed constitutional limits.
This delusion by “orientalists” like Henderson would return to the weak role of the courts before Marbury vs Madison, making the Bill of Rights vulnerable to erosion. Fortunately, the position did not prevail, and D.C. residents again have the right to defend themselves without proving a “need” beyond what they deem necessary and appropriate.
Pointer and Facts: Volokh Conspiracy