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Heller v. District of Columbia

March 26, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Re Document Nos. 23, 25




This matter comes before the court on the motion for summary judgment filed by the plaintiffs and the cross-motion for summary judgment filed by the defendants. In June 2008, the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller issued a watershed decision establishing that law-abiding, responsible citizens have the right, under the Second Amendment to the Constitution, to use arms "in defense of hearth and home." The defendants, the District of Columbia ("the District" or "D.C.") and Mayor Adrian Fenty, then promulgated new firearms restrictions in an effort to cure the constitutional deficits that the Supreme Court had identified in Heller. The plaintiffs in this case, Dick Heller, Absalom Jordan, William Carter and Mark Snyder, now challenge three provisions of the new laws: (1) the firearms registration procedures; (2) the prohibition on assault weapons; and (3) the prohibition on large capacity ammunition feeding devices.*fn1 In addition, the plaintiffs claim that the laws violate § 1-303.43 of the D.C. Code, which requires that all measures regulating firearms in the District be "usual and reasonable."

The plaintiffs and the defendants have now filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, the court concludes that the regulatory provisions that the plaintiffs challenge permissibly regulate the exercise of the core Second Amendment right to use arms for the purpose of self-defense in the home. As a consequence, the court denies the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and grants the defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment.


A. Heller and the District of Columbia's Response Thereto

In Heller, the Supreme Court held that "the District's ban on handgun possession in the home violate[d] the Second Amendment, as [did] its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense." District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S.Ct. 2783, 2821-22 (2008).*fn2 Following the issuance of the Heller decision, the D.C. Council ("the Council") enacted a series of temporary, emergency measures in an effort to regulate firearms in a manner consistent with the Supreme Court's ruling. See COUNCIL OF D.C., COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SAFETY & THE JUDICIARY, REPORT ON BILL 17-843, Nov. 25, 2008 ("Committee Report") at 1, 10-11. On September 18, 2008 and October 1, 2008, the Council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary held two days of public hearings*fn3 during which it heard the testimony of twenty-one witnesses -- both for and against the regulation of firearms -- and considered the written statements of four others "in order to receive as much public comment as possible in crafting [the] bill." Id. at 3; see also id. at 11-14. The Council then passed, and Mayor Fenty signed, the Firearms Registration Amendment Act of 2008 ("the Act")*fn4 on January 28, 2009. See 56 D.C. Reg. 3438 (May 1, 2009). After Congress declined to disapprove of the Act during the prescribed period of congressional review, it became law on March 31, 2009. See id.

B. The Instant Action

The plaintiffs commenced this action on July 28, 2008, see generally Compl., and filed an amended complaint the following day, see generally Am. Compl. Following the District's promulgation of the Act, the plaintiffs again amended their complaint on March 25, 2009.*fn5 See generally 2d Am. Compl. The plaintiffs claim that the firearms registration scheme, the prohibition on assault weapons and the prohibition on large capacity ammunition feeding devices violate the Second Amendment, both facially and as applied to the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment on July 31, 2009, see generally Pls.' Mot., the defendants filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on August 5, 2009, see generally Defs.' Cross-Mot., and the parties filed their respective oppositions and replies in September 2009, see generally Defs.' Opp'n to Pls.' Mot. ("Defs.' Opp'n"); Pls.' Reply in Support of Pls.' Mot. ("Pls.' Reply"); Pls.' Opp'n to Defs.' Cross-Mot. ("Pls.' Opp'n"); Defs.' Reply in Support of Defs.' Cross-Mot. ("Defs.' Reply"). As both motions are now ripe for adjudication, the court turns to the applicable legal standards and the parties' arguments.


A. Legal Standard for a Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C. Cir. 1995). To determine which facts are "material," a court must look to the substantive law on which each claim rests. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A "genuine issue" is one whose resolution could establish an element of a claim or defense and, therefore, affect the outcome of the action. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

In ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, the court shall grant summary judgment only if one of the parties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law upon material facts that are not genuinely disputed. Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Wash. v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 658 F. Supp. 2d 217, 224 (D.D.C. 2009) (citing Rhoads v. McFerran, 517 F.2d 66, 67 (2d Cir.1975)). To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show that the opposing party "fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the opposing party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Id.

The opposing party may defeat summary judgment through factual representations made in a sworn affidavit if he "support[s] his allegations . . . with facts in the record," Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (quoting Harding v. Gray, 9 F.3d 150, 154 (D.C. Cir. 1993)), or provides "direct testimonial evidence," Arrington v. United States, 473 F.3d 329, 338 (D.C. Cir. 2006).

B. Analytical Framework for Second Amendment Challenges

1. The Supreme Court's Heller Decision

The court begins its inquiry into the analytical framework governing this action by reviewing the Supreme Court's ruling in Heller. Dick Heller, the plaintiff in the prior Heller action and the lead plaintiff in this case, brought a Second Amendment challenge to the District's laws making it a crime to carry an unregistered firearm, prohibiting the registration of firearms and requiring that lawful firearms in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock at all times, rendering them inoperable. Heller, 128 S.Ct. at 2788.

After an exhaustive discussion of the text of the Second Amendment and the eighteenth-century sources of its original meaning, the Court held that the Amendment guarantees an individual right of armed defense that is not limited to militia service. Id. at 2801. The Court began its analysis with the language of the "operative clause" of the Second Amendment, which states that "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." U.S. CONST. amend. II. After consulting numerous historical authorities to illuminate the meaning of this language at the time it was adopted, the Court concluded:

Putting all of these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation. This meaning is strongly confirmed by the historical background of the Second Amendment. We look to this because it has always been widely understood that the Second Amendment, like the First and Fourth Amendments, codified a pre-existing right. Heller, 128 S.Ct. at 2797.

Next, the Court examined the historical meaning of the "prefatory clause" of the Second Amendment, which reads, "[a] well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State . . . ." Id. at 2799-2801 (quoting U.S. CONST. amend. II). The Court concluded that the prefatory clause described the purpose of codifying the Amendment, which was "to prevent elimination of the militia" by taking away citizens' arms. Id. at 2801. Self-defense, however, remained the "central component" of the Amendment. Id. The Court determined that because "the inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right" and because the District's ban on handgun possession "extend[ed] . . . to the home, where the need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute," that ban was invalid. Id. at 2817. For the same reason, the District's "prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense" also violated the Second Amendment. Id. at 2821-22. The Court concluded that "whatever else [the Second Amendment] leaves to future evaluation, it surely elevates above all other interests the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home." Id. at 2821.

While the Court recognized that the Second Amendment protects a natural right of an individual to keep and bear arms in the home in defense of self, family and property, it cautioned that that right is not unlimited. See id. at 2797-99. The Court noted that the Second Amendment does not "protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes." Id. at 2816. Nor should Heller "cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." Id. at 2816-17. And in a footnote, the Court specified that its list of "presumptively lawful regulatory measures" was not meant to be exhaustive. Id. at 2817 n.26. Additionally, the Court endorsed prohibitions on carrying "dangerous and unusual weapons" and extended the right to keep and carry arms only to those sorts of weapons "in common use at the time." Id. at 2817 (quoting United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174, 179 (1939)).

The Court expressly reserved the question of what standard of review to apply, concluding that the laws were invalid "[u]nder any of the standards of scrutiny that [the Court has] applied to enumerated constitutional rights." Id. at 2817. The Court did, however, rule out rational-basis review: "[i]f all that was required to overcome the right to keep and bear arms was a rational basis, the Second Amendment would be redundant with the separate constitutional prohibitions on irrational laws, and would have no effect." Id. n.27. Additionally, the Court rejected the "interest-balancing inquiry" proposed by Justice Breyer in dissent. Id. at 2821. This "judge-empowering" standard is inappropriate, the majority concluded, because "[a] constitutional guarantee subject to future judges' assessments of its usefulness is no constitutional guarantee ...

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