TriggerFinger


Parker vs DC: The Origins of Seegars vs Ashcroft


In the Beginning, several plaintiffs residing in Washington DC filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the ban on handguns in the city (as well as the effective ban on other firearms useful for self-defense). The Cato Institute helped out with legal representation. Following Ashcroft's change of policy on the Second Amendment within the Justice Department (he ordered the right acknowledged as an individual one), the stage was set to overturn draconian laws like those in DC.

This is the first article in a series discussing in depth the Seegars vs Ashcroft case prior to its appeal hearing on the 17th.


In the Beginning, several plaintiffs residing in Washington DC filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the ban on handguns in the city (as well as the effective ban on other firearms useful for self-defense). The Cato Institute helped out with legal representation. Following Ashcroft's change of policy on the Second Amendment within the Justice Department (he ordered the right acknowledged as an individual one), the stage was set to overturn draconian laws like those in DC.

This is the first article in a series discussing in depth the Seegars vs Ashcroft case prior to its appeal hearing on the 17th.

The plaintiffs in Parker vs DC were an ordinary citizen who wanted to own a handgun for self-defense, a Special Police Officer licensed to carry a handgun while working but not at home (and who additionally applied for a license to do so, but was denied), a gay man who has been assaulted for his sexual preferences and has in the past defended himself from such an assault with a handgun, and a legal gun owner in DC who is forced to keep her self-defense gun disassembled and inoperable.

The suit is filed against the District of Columbia as a political entity and the Mayor of DC both personally and officially.

The complaint puts the issue right out in front of the court:

At a minimum, the Second Amendment guarantees individuals a fundamental right to possess a functional, personal firearm, such as a handgun or ordinary long gun (shotgun or rifle) within the home. Defendants currently maintain and actively enforce a set of laws, customs, practices, and policies which operate to deprive individuals, including the plaintiffs, of this important right. Any such exercise of their Second Amendment rights would subject plaintiffs to criminal prosecution, and would lead to incarceration and/or fine.

The gun laws detailed in the complaint are horrifying. Handguns are prohibited unless registered prior to 1976; no new registrations are permitted. Long guns must be stored disassembled and non-functional. Handguns may not be carried on your own property, even if they were registered before the cut-off date, even simply to move from one location to another. The first offense is a misdemeanor, and the second a felony with up to 5 years jail time.

The goal of the lawsuit was to establish that the Second Amendment did not permit such draconian restrictions, and to block enforcement of the law. It was filed in the perfect time and perfect place to get a favorable ruling. The gun laws in the capital are the strictest in the nation, including de-facto bans. Despite these laws, crime rates in the capital are higher than almost everywhere else.

This lawsuit is something the NRA has been ducking for years, preferring a gradual strategy which they analogized to the civil rights movement. Strong gun-rights advocates felt, however, that the NRA was trying to duck the question to avoid negative rulings that would set precedents against the 2nd Amendment. This does nothing to correct the existing precedents, nor to advance gun rights. In Parker vs DC, some other organizations took the offensive.

The NRA responded with Seegars v Ashcroft, a case addressing the same issue in the same region. And the NRA appears to have done so in order to spoil the earlier case, a suspicion which many considered confirmed by their motion to consolidate the two cases. Their motion to consolidate was denied, however. Read the opposition brief to find out why.

The Parker v DC case moved forward on its own, a victory for the people behind the case. They filed a motion and brief requesting summary judgement, since no facts were in dispute; the issues in the case are solely those of law.

The defendents filed a motion to dismiss based on the issue of standing. This is the legal terminology for the "collective rights" argument; ie, the plaintiffs in the case are not members of the militia, and the 2nd Amendment only protects militia members. Because they aren't protected by the 2nd, according to this theory, they have no standing to request relief from the courts; their rights have not been harmed.

The plaintiffs of course opposed this motion. They make several important points:

  1. US v Miller has been misinterperted and actually supports an individual right
  2. None of the other cases cited contain any meaningful analysis of the 2nd Amendment
  3. A plain reading of the amendment cannot support a collective rights position

Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly for a lower court judge in the capital, the judge granted the motion to dismiss. That ended the case at the district court level, with an unfavorable ruling that the 2nd Amendment was a collective right. If things had stopped here, the NRA's reluctance to continue onwards could be understood.

But they did not stop there. The case was appealed to the next level up. That appeal generated more than a little attention, including several amici (friend of the court) briefs, which I will be posting and dissecting as I have time and am able to acquire them. But all that came to a screeching halt with this order staying the case pending the resolution of Seegars v Ashcroft.

And that is why, although Parker vs DC is probably the better case, I will be spending a lot of time and energy following the NRA's pet case instead. Once that case is decided, Parker vs DC will likely follow the same resolution if practical. That's the point of staying a case pending resolution of another, after all.

You can find out more about Parker v DC, and browse an archive of documents in that case.

It should probably be noted that this is not legal advice, and I am not a lawyer; merely an interested layman.


This entry was published Sat Sep 24 10:43:35 CDT 2005 by TriggerFinger and last updated 2005-09-24 10:43:35.0. [Tweet]

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