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November 16, 2010

Heller Back in Court


Yesterday (Nov. 15), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in the lawsuit brought by Dick Heller seeking to overturn the district’s new Post-Heller firearms regulations. Heller, the lead plaintiff who challenged the district’s previous handgun ban in the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago and won, sued the district a second time claiming that its new firearms registration process, its ban on certain commonly possessed semi-automatic firearms and its prohibition of “large” capacity magazines were unduly burdensome and violated the Second Amendment.

The District’s top appellate lawyer, Todd Kim of the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, argued that the city’s gun regulations do not infringe on a person’s right to keep a firearm in a house for self-defense. Kim said the Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms “but not to keep guns secret from the government or to possess military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.” During one courtroom exchange, Justice Ginsburg questioned Kim on why the District considers assault rifles “offensive weapons.” Mr. Kim argued that such firearms are not useful for self-defense and are designed for “mass murder.”

Of course, what Mr. Kim is defining as an “assault weapon” is actually nothing more than a basic semi-automatic firearm. That’s right, these are not machine guns, which have been severely restricted from civilian ownership since 1934 under the National Firearms Act.

These AR-style rifles, wrongly labeled “assault weapons,” function the same as any other legal-to-own- semi-automatic sporting or home defense firearm. These guns fire in the same manner as any other semi-automatic firearm (one shot per trigger pull – no spray firing), they shoot the same ammunition as other guns of the same caliber and are no more powerful. What differentiates a so-called “assault weapon” from other guns is cosmetic; for example, the type of stock on the gun, which makes the conventionally operating firearm look more like a military firearm.

Whether a pistol, shot gun or modern sporting rifle, semi-automatic firearms are used everyday for home defense and it is disingenuous for the district to portray these firearms in any other way, more less as weapons of war.