Seegars v. Ashcroft

Citation297 F.Supp.2d 201
Decision Date14 January 2004
Docket NumberNo. CIV.A.03-834(RBW).,CIV.A.03-834(RBW).
PartiesSandra SEEGARS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. John D. ASHCROFT, Attorney General of the United States, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Richard E. Gardiner, Stephen Porter Halbrook, Fairfax, VA, for Plaintiffs.

Daniel Meron, Terry Marcus Henry, United States Department of Justice, Daniel Albert Rezneck, Office of Corporation Counsel for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

Eric Mogilnicki, Jr., Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, Adam Charles Sloane, David M. Gossett, Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw, for Amicus.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

WALTON, District Judge.

The plaintiffs, five residents of the District of Columbia, have filed a complaint with this Court seeking "to vindicate the rights of residents of the District of Columbia to exercise the same rights accorded to American citizens in every State of the Union to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which [the plaintiffs allege] guarantees the right of law-abiding citizens to keep handguns in the home for lawful defense of their families and other lawful purposes." Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 1. The defendants, John D. Ashcroft, the Attorney General of the United States ("Attorney General"), and Anthony A. Williams, the Mayor of the District of Columbia ("Mayor"), have both filed motions to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint. The Attorney General asserts that because "[p]laintiffs have neither been prosecuted nor threatened with prosecution under the [challenged] statutes, nor have they even sought to obtain registration or licensing under the statutes[,]" they lack standing to pursue their claims and this case is therefore not ripe for review. Motion to Dismiss of Defendant Attorney General of the United States and Memorandum of Law in Support Thereof ("Att'y Gen.'s Mot.") at 1-3. The Mayor, on the other hand, asserts that the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because, among other reasons, the Second Amendment does not guarantee individuals a constitutional right to possess firearms.1 Defendant Anthony A. Williams' Motion to Dismiss the Complaint, Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendant Williams' Motion to Dismiss the Complaint ("Mayor's Mot.") at 1-6. Upon consideration of the parties' written submissions, the oral arguments of counsel,2 and for the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the plaintiffs' claims challenging the District of Columbia's statutes prohibiting the possession of pistols are non-justiciable and therefore must be dismissed. However, the Court finds that plaintiff Gardine Hailes' challenges to the District of Columbia statute which requires that she keep her shotgun either unloaded, disassembled or bound by a trigger lock are legally distinct from the plaintiffs' challenges to the District of Columbia's statutes prohibiting the possession of pistols. Thus, the Court must consider whether Ms. Hailes has a viable Second Amendment claim. For the reasons outlined below, the Court concludes that the plaintiff is unable to maintain a Second Amendment challenge to the requirement regarding how she must maintain her legally possessed firearm, and, in any event, the Second Amendment does not apply to the District of Columbia. Accordingly, Ms. Hailes' challenges must also be dismissed.

I. Factual Background

As mentioned above, the plaintiffs are all resident of the District of Columbia. Plaintiff Sandra Seegars is a Commissioner of the District of Columbia Taxicab Commission and an elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner. Compl. ¶ 22. Ms. Seegars allegedly "resides in a high crime neighborhood, has been a crime victim, and wishes to obtain a pistol to defend herself in her home." Id. Plaintiff Gardine Hailes is an office manager and a former television show host who "currently possesses in her home a registered shotgun which she keeps bound by a trigger lock." Compl. ¶ 23. According to Ms. Hailes, her home and her neighbor's home have been burglarized and she wishes to "remove the trigger lock when she deems it necessary to defend herself in her home ... [and] also wishes to obtain a pistol to defend herself in her home." Id. Plaintiff Absalom F. Jordan, Jr., is an elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and a National Rifle Association Certified Firearms Instructor. Compl. ¶ 24. Mr. Jordan purportedly "is a victim of [an] attempted armed robbery[,] ... [lives in] a major drug area[, and] is involved in efforts to expel drug dealers from [his] neighborhood." Id. Mr. Jordan also wishes to obtain a pistol "and keep it at his residence for self protection." Id. Plaintiff Carmela B. Brown is a writer and an actor and claims that she "resides in a high crime neighborhood rife with open-air drug trafficking and prostitution, and wishes to obtain a pistol to defend herself in her home." Compl. ¶ 25. Finally, plaintiff Robert N. Hemphill is a retired postman and "wishes to obtain a pistol to defend himself in his home." Compl. ¶ 26.

The barrier to the plaintiffs' desires to legally possess pistols in the District of Columbia is section 7-2502.01 of the District of Columbia Code, which prohibits the possession of any firearm within the District of Columbia "unless the person or organization holds a valid registration certificate for the firearm."3 D.C.Code § 7-2502.01 (2001). Firearm registration certificates, which may be issued under this statute to organizations involved in law enforcement, are not necessary for: (1) individuals involved in law enforcement or the armed forces while on duty, (2) a licensed dealer if such a firearm is acquired and kept with respect to that business, and (3) any nonresident of the District of Columbia "participating in any lawful recreational firearm-related activity in the District . . . ." Id. Furthermore, and of particular importance in this case, section 7-2502.02 of the District of Columbia Code states that "[a] registration certificate shall not be issued for a ... [p]istol not validly registered to the current registrant in the District prior to September 24, 1976 ...." D.C.Code § 7-2502.02 (2001). If the Chief of Police determines "that an application for a registration certificate should be denied ... [he] shall notify the applicant ... of the proposed denial ..., briefly stating the reason or reasons therefor." D.C.Code § 7-2502.10 (2001). A notice of the denial must then be served on the applicant, who

shall have 15 days from the date the notice is served in which to submit further evidence in support of the application ...; provided, that if the applicant does not make such a submission within 15 days from the date of service, the applicant ... shall be deemed to have conceded the validity of the reason or reasons stated in the notice, and the denial of revocation shall become final.

Id. If the applicant timely submits further evidence in support of the application, the Chief of Police has ten days to serve upon the applicant a notice of his final decision. Id.

The Chief's decision shall become effective at the expiration of the time within which to file a notice of appeal pursuant to the District of Columbia Administrative Procedure Act ... or, if such a notice of appeal is filed, at the time the final order or judgment of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals becomes effective.

Id. The prohibition against carrying firearms is set forth in Title 22 of the District of Columbia Code. Section 22-4504(a) of the Code provides, in part, that:

No person shall carry within the District of Columbia either openly or concealed on or about their person, a pistol, without a license pursuant to District of Columbia law .... Whoever violates this section shall be punished as provided in § 22-4515, except that:

(1) A person who violates this section by carrying a pistol, without a license issued pursuant to District of Columbia law, ... in a place other than the person's dwelling place, place of business, or on other land possessed by the person, shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both ....4

D.C.Code § 22-4504(a) (2001). Section 22-4515 of the District of Columbia Code provides: "Any violation of any provision of this chapter for which no penalty is specifically provided shall be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000 or imprisonment for not more than 1 year, or both." D.C.Code § 22-4515 (2001).

The plaintiffs also challenge District of Columbia Code § 7-2507.02, which provides that "each registrant shall keep any firearm in his possession unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device unless such firearm is kept at his place of business, or while being used for lawful recreational purposes within the District of Columbia." D.C.Code § 7-2507.02 (2001). A violation of D.C.Code § 7-2507.02 is punishable by imprisonment for up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000. See D.C.Code § 7-2507.06 (2001).

II. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) requires the plaintiffs to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the court has jurisdiction to entertain their claims. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1); Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F.Supp.2d 9, 13 (D.D.C.2001) (holding that while the plaintiff has the burden of establishing the court's jurisdiction, the court has an "affirmative obligation to ensure that it is acting within the scope of its jurisdictional authority."); Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. United States Postal Serv., 27 F.Supp.2d 15, 18 (D.D.C.1998); Darden v. United States, 18 Cl.Ct. 855, 859 (Cl.Ct.1989). While the Court must accept as true all the factual allegations contained in the complaint when reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164, 113 S.Ct....

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