For Release: Thursday, January 15, 2004
Ruling Refutes Claim by Attorney General Ashcroft That Second Amendment Protects an Individual Right to Keep and Bear Arms
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton last night dismissed a National Rifle Association (NRA)-backed lawsuit challenging the constitutionality on Second Amendment grounds of Washington, DC’s ban on the sale and possession of handguns. Judge Walton’s 68-page ruling in Seegars v. Ashcroft upholds the ban, which was adopted by the City Council in 1976.
In his opinion, Judge Walton, who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, wrote: “[T]he Court must conclude that the Second Amendment does not confer an individual right to possess firearms. Rather, the Amendment’s objective is to ensure the vitality of state militias.”
In praising Judge Walton’s decision, Violence Policy Center (VPC) Litigation Director and Legislative Counsel Matt Nosanchuk states, “The court’s decision is a victory for the safety and security of District residents. Despite the `handguns for all’ mentality of the NRA, the last thing District residents want is more handguns in their communities. Judge Walton’s opinion is not only the most comprehensive ruling ever to address the constitutionality of Washington, DC’s strict gun control laws, it is one of the most thorough and thoughtful decisions on the Second Amendment ever rendered.” The VPC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.
The Seegars case is the latest decision rejecting challenges to gun laws on Second Amendment grounds following Attorney General John Ashcroft’s reversal of longstanding Justice Department policy regarding the Second Amendment, now stating that it protects an individual right to bear arms. Ashcroft’s “individual rights” interpretation has been rejected in more than 100 cases, including federal court of appeals decisions in Chicago, Cincinnati, and San Francisco.
The Seegars case is one component of a high-profile legal and legislative campaign being waged by the NRA to overturn the DC handgun ban. The lead plaintiff in the NRA’s failed suit, DC Taxicab Commissioner Sandra Seegars, was featured on the cover of the December 2003 issue of the NRA’s America’s 1st Freedom magazine. At the same time, the NRA is backing legislation introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), S. 1414, to repeal the District’s handgun ban. (A separate Second Amendment challenge to the DC handgun ban, Parker v. District Columbia, is still pending before U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan.)
VPC’s friend-of-the-court brief was prepared by Andrew Frey, David Gossett, Fatima Goss, and Adam Sloane of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP, in Washington, DC.