Federal appeals court upholds DC gun laws

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Tuesday upheld the constitutionality [opinion, PDF] of gun laws containing certain registration requirements and laws prohibiting the ownership of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. The laws at issue represented a part of the Firearms Registration Amendment Act of 2008 (FRA) [text], which the district adopted following the Supreme Court's ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the prior laws restricting possession of firearms in one's home violated the Second Amendment rights [text; JURIST news archive] of individuals to keep and bear arms. The plaintiffs in the case challenged both the authority of the District to pass the FRA as well as its constitutionality. The court, determining that the district had authority to promulgate the laws, next considered whether each of the challenged provisions was consistent with the Second Amendment. The provisions at issue included those requiring basic and additional registration requirements as well as those prohibiting the ownership of assault weapons and magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. In its constitutional analysis, the court distinguished between the longstanding general registration requirements, which it held were presumptively lawful and "novel" registration requirements, which mandated that an applicant appear in person and meet a vision requirement, among other things. The latter requirements did not qualify for the presumption of lawfulness and were remanded to the district court for further analysis. In upholding the constitutionality of the prohibition laws, the court stated:

Unlike the law held unconstitutional in Heller, the laws at issue here do not prohibit the possession of "the quintessential self-defense weapon," to wit, the handgun. Nor does the ban on certain semi-automatic rifles prevent a person from keeping a suitable and commonly used weapon for protection in the home or for hunting, whether a handgun or a non-automatic long gun.
In its holding, the court emphasized that the rights secured by the Second Amendment are not unlimited and the prohibition law is a reasonable limitation that does not violate the constitutional rights of residents in the District of Columbia.

Gun control laws remain a contentious issue across the US. Last month, a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website] temporarily enjoined [JURIST report] a Florida law restricting what physicians can ask or say about firearms to their patients as violative of the doctors' First Amendment rights. Under the Firearm Owners' Privacy Act (FOPA) [text], violating doctors risk losing their medical license and up to a $10,000 fine for "asking questions concerning the ownership of a firearm" or "unnecessarily harassing a patient about firearm ownership." Judge Marcia Cooke rejected Florida's argument that the law was about protecting Second Amendment rights. The temporary injunction seems likely to become permanent [Reuters report]. In March, US President Barack Obama [official website] called for greater enforcement of gun laws [JURIST report] in the wake of the January shootings in Arizona [JURIST report]. In an opinion piece published by the Arizona Daily Star, Obama called for the implementation of "sound and effective steps" aimed at minimizing gun violence.

 

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