Appeals Court Quashes Some District of Columbia Gun Laws

ABC News

In a mixed decision, a federal appeals court on Friday struck down as unconstitutional parts of a gun-control law in the nation’s capital that imposed strict registration requirements on handguns and long guns.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2-1 that the city cannot ban gun owners from registering more than one pistol per month or require owners to re-register a gun every three years. The court also invalidated requirements that owners make a gun available for inspection and pass a test about firearms laws.  

But the court upheld other parts of the law, such as requiring gun owners to be fingerprinted and photographed, pay certain fees and complete a firearms safety training course.

In all, the court upheld six gun laws and struck down four.

The District of Columbia put the registration laws in place after a landmark 2008 Supreme Court decision that struck down a 32-year-old handgun ban in the District of Columbia. The high court ruled in that case the Second Amendment protects handgun possession for self-defense in the home.

A federal judge had previously upheld all the new registration laws.

District of Columbia officials argued that the laws were aimed at preserving gun owners’ constitutional rights while also protecting the community from gun violence.

But writing for the appeals court majority, Judge Douglas Ginsburg said some of the laws did not pass constitutional muster. He rejected, for example, the city’s argument that the one-pistol-per-month rule would reduce illegal trafficking in weapons.

“The suggestion that a gun trafficker would bring fewer guns into the District because he could not register more than one per month there lacks the support of experience and of common sense,” Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg, who was appointed by President Ronald Regan, was joined in his opinion by Judge Patricia Millett, an appointee of President Barack Obama.

Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, named to the court President George H. W. Bush, dissented in part, saying she would have upheld all the registration laws.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said she was not surprised by the decision after she was informed of the ruling during a radio interview.

“Our gun laws have been under attack for many years,” Bowser said. “We obviously disagree.”

Bowser, a Democrat, said the District of Columbia Council should be free to pass laws with “reasonable restrictions” on gun ownership in their city.

The latest lawsuit was brought by Dick Heller, the same man who challenged the city’s handgun ban and won before the U.S. Supreme Court.

It was the second time the appeals court had considered the registration laws. In 2011, the court upheld the constitutionality of the basic registration requirement for handguns, but sent the case back to a lower court so city officials could explain why the various registration requirements were necessary.

Only six states and the District require gun owners to register some or all firearms, according to the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The District is one of only a few places — including Hawaii and California — that also have registration requirements for so-called long guns, which include rifles and shotguns.


Associated Press writer Ben Nuckols contributed to this report.

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