Sunday, March 18, 2007

The 2nd Ammendment Stirs

A federal appeals court in Washington today struck down on Second Amendment grounds a gun control law in the District of Columbia that bars residents from keeping handguns in their homes.

The decision was the first from a federal appeals court to hold a gun-control law unconstitutional on the ground that the Second Amendment protects the rights of individuals, as opposed to a collective right of state militias. This decision is headed to SCOTUS. The Supreme court may decide to skip this one but I really don't think so. This is going to come to a head, and it may not come in favor of the 2nd amendment advocates. For now we will take the victory and gloat. The Decision was based on a 1 to 2 vote the dissenting argument is interesting. Judge Karen Henderson dissented, writing that the Second Amendment does not apply to the District of Columbia because it is not a state. Her dissent was not based on the idea that the right to bare arms is based on a collective right for the militia.

The other interesting feature of this court case and decision is that it wasn't fought by the usual cast of characters. While The NRA and ACLU had supplied briefs the main figure and financial backing is from a man who not only doesn't own a gun. The Washington Post has the run down:

Meet the lawyer who conceived the lawsuit that gutted the District's tough gun-control statute this month. Meet the lawyer who recruited a group of strangers to sue the city and bankrolled their successful litigation out of his own pocket.

Meet Robert A. Levy, staunch defender of the Second Amendment, a wealthy former entrepreneur who said he has never owned a firearm and probably never will.

"I don't actually want a gun," Levy said by phone last week from his residence, a $1.7 million condominium in a Gulf Coast high-rise. "I mean, maybe I'd want a gun if I was living on Capitol Hill. Or in Anacostia somewhere. But I live in Naples, Florida, in a gated community. I don't feel real threatened down here."

He is 65, a District native who left the city 40 years ago for Montgomery County, a self-made millionaire who thinks the government interferes too much with people's liberties. He was an investment analyst before he sold his company for a fortune and enrolled in law school at age 49. Now he's a constitutional fellow with the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, working in his luxury condo 1,000 miles away.

It was his idea, his project, his philosophical mission to mount a legal challenge to the city's "draconian" gun restrictions, which are among the toughest in the nation. The statute offends his libertarian principles, Levy said. And it is entirely his money behind the lawsuit that led a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to strike down the statute this month, a ruling that stunned D.C. officials and gun-control advocates. The city said it will appeal the decision.

Levy, who moved to Florida two years ago, explained in an interview why he initiated the case, with Cato's blessing; why he has rejected offers of financial help, insisting on footing the bills himself; how he and a co-counsel searched for and vetted potential plaintiffs, finally settling on a diverse group of six people; and why he thinks letting D.C. residents keep loaded guns in their homes would not make the city a more dangerous place.

"By the way, I'm not a member of any of those pro-gun groups," he said. "I don't travel in those circles. My interest is in vindicating the Constitution."

Levy is a libertarian interested in preserving the Constitution.

Like other critics of the law, Levy cites the District's annual triple-digit homicide totals and its "ridiculously high rate of crime" in the past 30 years as evidence that the statute has not made Washington safer. Its only impact, he said, has been to disarm honest residents in their homes, leaving them vulnerable in a violent city.

To Levy the libertarian, though, the effectiveness of the law -- its success or failure in curbing crime -- isn't the core issue. What matters most to him is whether the statute unjustly infringes on personal liberties. He doesn't dispute that "reasonable" gun controls are permissible under the Second Amendment. But the District's law amounts to "an outright prohibition," Levy said, and "that offends my constitutional sensibilities."

So he opened his wallet and did something about it.

Because of his and Tom Palmer's involvement in the case, Levy said, a mistaken impression has spread that the Cato Institute instigated the lawsuit. "They love this case and they've been very, very supportive," he said. But Cato is a think tank, not a law firm, and hasn't so much as filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. "This is my venture," Levy said.

The lawsuit failed last year in U.S. District Court, prompting the appeal that succeeded this month. Although gun-rights advocates and other organizations have offered to aid the case financially, Levy said, "I've taken nothing. Zero." The reason: "I don't want this portrayed as litigation that the gun community is sponsoring. . . . I don't want to be beholden to anyone. I want to call the shots, with my co-counsel."

So a single libertarian has done more to turn around a 70 year string of 2nd ammendment losses than the overblown and very rich anti-Libertarian NRA has.

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