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10/15/2003 Archived Entry: "More on the NRA wanting to register guns"

STEPHEN HALBROOK HAS RESPONDED TO CRITICS on his statement in court that he and the NRA "are here wanting to register handguns." Here's his answer:

Handguns are absolutely banned in the District of Columbia. Before 1976, citizens could possess registered handguns. D.C. law required all firearms to be registered, but that year a law was passed prohibiting the registration of handguns, thereby completely banning them. Our lawsuit, Seegars v. Ashcroft, seeks to allow D.C. residents once again lawfully to possess handguns.

Our clients actually live in the District of Columbia and are confronted by criminals of all kinds in their neighborhoods. For them, it would be major progress to be able to keep a handgun in the home, even if it must be registered. Arm-chair critics may wish to litigate every gun control law on the books in one case, but it's not realistic litigation strategy.

Our strategy is a narrowly-focused effort to encourage the court to recognize the Second Amendment as an individual right and to declare the D.C. handgun ban unconstitutional, so that residents who are daily threatened by criminal violence may keep handguns in their homes to defend themselves. To a defenseless people, the ability merely to possess a handgun would be a giant step forward. But it's just the first step. If we can persuade the court to invalidate the gun ban, the next logical step will be attacking the registration of firearms as a violation of the Second Amendment.

This strategy is similar to that used by the NAACP in the decades leading up to the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. They didn't go into court trying to overturn all Jim Crow laws at once, and instead picked one specific blatantly offensive part of the law for each case that actually had a chance to be struck down, and then they used that decision in subsequent cases to bolster further arguments.

NRA supports this litigation as part of a broader strategy to restore Second Amendment rights to D.C. citizens. Bills have been introduced in both the Senate and the House to repeal not just the handgun ban, but also the requirement that all firearms be registered. The goal is the complete restoration of Second Amendment rights, and NRA will continue vigorously to pursue this objective in the courts and in the Congress.

Well, no, the strategy isn't similar to that used by the NAACP. True, the NAACP tackled one issue at a time. But they didn't ask to have one outrageous law merely replaced with a somewhat less outrageous one. They asked for each individual outrage to be removed, banished, kaput, gone, out of their way, not simply made more palatable. So that's a disingenuous comparison.

The remarks about not going into court to litigate "every gun law on the books in one case" and "trying to overturn all Jim Crow laws at once" are slaps at Silveira v. Lockyer, the broad Second Amendment case being promoted by hard-core gun-rights activists. The NRA's official line is that Silveira is an absurdly all-emcompasing case that will hurt, not help, the Second Amendment. True, the Supremes do favor making judgments on the narrowest possible issues. But OTOH, arguing the virtue of registration in court does not lay the groundwork for going back later and arguing that registration is illegal and unconstitutional. And call me a cynic, but given the NRA's history of going along to get along with government, I don't believe for one minute they'd really fight a hard and principled battle against firearms registration.

Posted by Claire @ 09:00 AM CST

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