Heller v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action No. 08–1289 JEB

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtJAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge
Citation45 F.Supp.3d 35
PartiesDick Anthony Heller, et al., Plaintiffs, v. District of Columbia, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 08–1289 JEB
Decision Date15 May 2014

45 F.Supp.3d 35

Dick Anthony Heller, et al., Plaintiffs
District of Columbia, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 08–1289 JEB

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed May 15, 2014

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Stephen Porter Halbrook, Dan Mark Peterson, Dan M. Peterson PLLC, Fairfax, VA, for Plaintiffs.

Andrew J. Saindon, Chad Alan Naso, Office of the Attorney General, Washington, DC, for Defendants.


JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge

The District of Columbia knows gun violence. Notorious for a time as the “murder capital” of the United States, it recorded over 400 homicides annually in the early 1990s—more than one for every 1500 residents. While safety in the District has improved markedly in this millennium, residents will not soon forget the violence of the more recent past: the wounding of seven children outside the National Zoo on Easter Monday in 2000, the triple murder at Colonel Brooks' Tavern in 2003, the five killed in the South Capitol Street shootings in 2010, and the twelve shot to death inside the Washington Navy Yard only a few months ago. These number just a few of the lives lost to guns in our city's recent memory.

In an effort to stem this violence and promote public safety, the District of Columbia has, over the last several decades, passed some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation. In fact, it was the District's handgun ban that the Supreme Court struck down in

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District of Columbia v. Heller (Heller I), 554 U.S. 570, 128 S.Ct. 2783, 171 L.Ed.2d 637 (2008), where the Court concluded that the Second Amendment protected handgun possession for self-defense in the home. Seeking to accommodate that constitutional right while also protecting the community from gun violence, the District responded by enacting a law that banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines but merely imposed registration requirements for handguns and long guns. Plaintiffs believe that such a law still infringes their Second Amendment rights and have brought this action to challenge it.

A prior district court initially upheld the constitutionality of the law, but on appeal, the D.C. Circuit offered a mixed response. Although it affirmed the bans on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, as well as the handgun-registration requirement, it remanded the case to this Court to permit the parties to develop a more thorough factual record in relation to the lion's share of the regulations. Having done so, both sides now cross-move for summary judgment, asking the Court to consider their constitutional arguments in light of the new evidence adduced.

The Second Amendment requires the District to justify its firearm-registration requirements by presenting substantial evidence that they will achieve important governmental interests and that they are narrowly tailored to such ends. The Court ultimately concludes that the government has met that burden and that the regulations pass constitutional scrutiny.

The people of this city, acting through their elected representatives, have sought to combat gun violence and promote public safety. The Court finds that they have done so in a constitutionally permissible manner.

I. Background

In 2008, the Supreme Court struck down the District of Columbia's handgun law as violating the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. That landmark decision, Heller I, announced that the Second Amendment protects “the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.” Id. at 635, 128 S.Ct. 2783. The Court thus voided the District's total ban on handgun possession as well as its requirement that D.C. residents store their lawfully owned firearms disassembled or bound by a trigger lock. See id. at 574–75, 128 S.Ct. 2783. Because a handgun is “the quintessential self-defense weapon” and because storing firearms disassembled or locked “makes it impossible for citizens to use them for the core lawful purpose of self-defense,” the Court found that these two regulations contravened the Second Amendment. Id. at 629–30, 635, 128 S.Ct. 2783.

A few months after Heller I, the D.C. Council enacted the Firearms Registration Amendment Act of 2008, which amended what remained of the District's gun laws in order to create a new and constitutionally compliant scheme for regulating firearms.See D.C. Law 17–372; 56 D.C.Reg. 3438 (May 1, 2009). The Council adjusted this scheme again in 2012. See D.C. Law 19–170; 59 D.C.Reg. 5691 (May 15, 2012). When the Council considered both the 2008 FRA and the 2012 amendments, it held several days of public hearings during which it received oral and written testimony supporting and opposing the legislation. See Def. Mot., Exh. A (Appendix) at 33–49 (Council of the District of Columbia Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, Report on Bill 17–1843, “Firearms Registration Amendment Act of 2008”) (“2008 Report”); id. at 120–48 (Council of the District of Columbia Committee on the Judiciary, Report on Bill 19–614, “Firearms Amendment Act of 2012”) (“2012 Report”).

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The FRA establishes a city-wide gun registry, which requires that all gun owners in the District individually register each of their firearms with the city government. See D.C.Code § 7–2502.01. It then ties a host of obligations, limitations, and prohibitions to that basic registration mandate. See § 7–2502.02–.11.

More specifically, the regulatory regime adopted by the Council works as follows: To possess a firearm within the District, the owner must register that weapon with the city. See § 7–2502.01(a). This basic registration requirement applies equally to handguns and to long guns. See § 7–2501.01(9) (defining “firearm” without distinguishing between handguns and long guns). The firearm-registration system is run by the District's Metropolitan Police Department, which processes registrants' applications and maintains a database of firearm registrations. See Def. Mot., Exh. B (Declaration of Lieutenant Jon Shelton), ¶¶ 3, 9, 13. The District bars the registration—and thus the possession—of certain kinds of firearms, including sawed-off shotguns, machine guns, and assault weapons. See § 7–2502.02(a). The District also bars blind people from registering—and thus possessing—any firearm at all. See § 7–2502.03(a)(11). Finally, the District does not allow gun owners to register more than one pistol per month, although a new D.C. resident may grandfather in multiple pistols that he owned prior to moving here. See § 7–2502.03(e). Given that this provision refers only to “pistols,” the limitation presumably does not apply to other types of firearms, such as rifles or shotguns.

To register a firearm, the owner must appear in person at MPD headquarters with the weapon he seeks to register. See § 7–2502.04(c). He must be photographed and fingerprinted, see § 7–2502.04(a) & (b), complete a background check, see § 7–2502.03(a), and provide, among other things, his current place of employment and his residences going back five years. See § 7–2502.03(b). The background check queries a number of sources, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Washington Area Law Enforcement System, the National Criminal Information Center, and the D.C. Superior Court. See Shelton Decl., ¶¶ 11–12. According to MPD policy, “personally identifiable information provided by applicants on firearms-registration forms is exempt from disclosure to the public ... as a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Id., ¶13. The prospective registrant must also take and pass a test demonstrating knowledge of the District's firearms regulations as well as complete a firearms-training and safety course provided free of charge by the District. See D.C.Code § 7–2502.03(a)(10) & (13)(A). After the registrant has passed the test and completed the course, he need not do so again in order to register additional weapons.See id. Lastly, the registrant must pay a fee to reimburse the District for its registration expenses. See § 7–2502.05(b).

The owner of a registered firearm must keep the registration certificate with him whenever he is in possession of the weapon and he must produce it upon the demand of a law enforcement officer. See § 7–2502.08(c). If the firearm is lost, stolen, or destroyed, he must immediately notify MPD; if he sells or transfers the weapon, he must notify District police within two days; and if he changes his name or address, he must notify the police within 30 days. See § 7–2502.08(a). Registration certificates expire after three years, so gun owners must continually renew the certificates for the firearms in their possession. See § 7–2502.07a. Penalties for violating the District's registration requirements may include fines, revocation of registration certificates, prohibition from possessing

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firearms, and prison time. See §§ 7–2502.08(e) & 7–2507.06.

Skeptical of the lawfulness of this post-Heller I regulatory regime, Plaintiffs sued the District. They claimed, first, that the D.C. Council lacked the regulatory authority to enact this...

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  • Heller v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action No. 08–1289 (JEB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • May 15, 2014
    ...45 F.Supp.3d 35Dick Anthony Heller, et al., Plaintiffs,v.District of Columbia, et al., Defendants.Civil Action No. 08–1289 (JEB)United States District Court, District of Columbia.Signed May 15, Plaintiffs' motion denied; defendant's motion granted. [45 F.Supp.3d 37] Stephen Porter Halbrook,......

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