Richard Heller. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ.)
A Washington federal district court judge on Thursday upheld key provisions of the District of Columbia’s second shot at gun regulation following the U.S. Supreme Court’s invalidation of its law in 2008.
In a 62-page opinion, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg rejected a challenge to the District’s basic registration requirement as applied to long guns as well as four registration requirements that applied to all guns.
“The people of this city, acting through their elected representatives, have sought to combat gun violence and promote public safety,” Boasberg wrote. “The court finds that they have done so in a constitutionally permissible manner.”
A few months after the Supreme Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, the D.C. Council enacted the Firearms Registration Act of 2008 to create a new scheme for regulating firearms. That act was amended in 2012 after public hearings.
Dick Heller, who successfully challenged the city’s gun laws in 2008, and four other district residents brought the latest suit over the regulations. The challengers argued the D.C. Council lacked the regulatory authority to enact the scheme and that the regulations once again violated the Second Amendment.
A federal district court in 2010 rejected Heller’s challenges. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed the decision on the regulatory-authority question and the basic registration requirement as applied to handguns and the ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.
The appellate court, however, said the record was inadequate on the long-guns issue and other registration requirements. The D.C. Circuit remanded the case to the district court to develop a record on those issues.
In his ruling Thursday in Heller v. District of Columbia, Boasberg applied heightened, or intermediate scrutiny, to determine the constitutionality of the challenged regulations. On the long-guns issues, he said Heller offered “no evidence” to suggest that the basic registration requirement is any more burdensome as applied to long guns than as applied to handguns.
“Indeed, if the basic registration requirement is ‘self-evidently de minimis’ as applied to handguns, then the Court is at a loss to imagine how that same requirement could become anything more than de minimis as applied to long guns,” the judge wrote.
Boasberg also found that the four challenged registration requirements that apply to all guns—appearing in person, bringing the firearm, photographing and fingerprinting—were substantially related to the District’s interests in police protection and, particularly, public safety.
“The District has presented substantial evidence that all this is necessary to ensure that the underlying registration scheme is effective in tracking who is eligible to own a firearm and who owns which weapons,” he wrote. “That insight is backed not only by ‘simple common sense,’ but also by an impressive array of expert testimony.”
Heller also challenged the requirement that a gun registrant not be blind. The judge ruled that since none of the plaintiffs was blind, they lacked standing to challenge the requirement.
Stephen Halbrook, counsel to the Heller plaintiffs, said: “We are reviewing the opinion and fully expect to appeal.”