The plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that struck down Washington, D.C.'s 32-year-old handgun ban filed a new federal lawsuit Monday, alleging the city's new gun regulations still violate an individual's right to own a gun for self-defense.
Dick Heller and two other plaintiffs argue that the city's regulations are "highly unusual and unreasonable" in the complaint filed in U.S. District Court.
The lawsuit claims the District of Columbia continues to violate the intent of the Supreme Court's June 26 decision by prohibiting the ownership of most semiautomatic weapons, requiring an "arbitrary" fee to register a firearm and establishing rules that make it all but impossible for residents to keep a gun in the home for immediate self-defense.
The D.C. Council was immediately criticized by gun rights advocates when it unanimously passed emergency gun legislation July 15. The law will remain in effect for 90 days, and the council expects to begin work in September on permanent legislation.
The regulations maintain the city's ban of machine guns, defined in the law as weapons that shoot more than 12 rounds without reloading. That definition applies to most semiautomatic firearms.
Handguns, as well as other legal firearms such as rifles and shotguns, also must be kept unloaded and disassembled, or equipped with trigger locks in the home unless there is a "reasonably perceived threat of immediate harm."
"A robber basically has to make an appointment" for a resident to be able to prepare the weapon for use, Heller's attorney, Stephen Halbrook, said Monday. Halbrook also called the city's definition of machine guns "bizarre."
"The District's ban on semiautomatic handguns amounts to a prohibition of an entire class of arms that is overwhelmingly chosen by American society for the lawful purpose of self defense in the home," the lawsuit alleges.
D.C. interim Attorney General Peter Nickles said the suit came as no surprise and that he expects a long legal fight as the issue makes it way through the courts.
"I think there's a fundamental disagreement with the intent of the Supreme Court's decision," said Nickles, noting that the Supreme Court's ruling did not give officials much guidance with respect to regulating firearms.
"I feel comfortable with what the city has done," Nickles said.
After the Supreme Court narrowly struck down Washington's handgun ban last month in a narrow 5-4 decision, the D.C. Council quickly moved to comply with the ruling, and residents were allowed to begin applying for handguns July 17 for the first time since 1976.
Monday's lawsuit alleges that Heller initially tried to register a semiautomatic Colt pistol, but was denied because D.C. police considered the weapon to be a machine gun.
Besides Heller, the other plaintiffs are Absalom Jordan, whose application to register a .22-caliber pistol was denied, and Amy McVey, who must return to D.C. police headquarters two more times to register her weapon after being photographed and fingerprinted and undergoing a background check, according to the lawsuit.
Washington's gun ban essentially outlawed private ownership of handguns in a city struggling with violence. But what impact the ban has had on crime has long been debated, particularly after homicides more than doubled during a crack epidemic in the late 1980s and early '90s.
The city's gun regulations remain among the strictest in the country under the new regulations, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
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