As anyone who knows anything about Washington, D.C., can tell you, the city's gun ban has been a total failure. Its only real effect has been to disarm law-abiding citizens while giving criminals -- who have no trouble acquiring illegal firearms -- the peace of mind that comes with knowing they will never be confronted by a homeowner, neighbor or potential rape victim wielding a loaded gun.
The District of Columbia does not trust its citizens with guns. Unlike every other state and city in the country, D.C. forbids anyone from keeping a functional firearm -- including a handgun -- in his or her own home. This Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether the city's gun ban violates the Second Amendment right of D.C. residents to keep and bear arms.
The Second Amendment states that the "right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Rather than honor that command, the district has hired an army of lawyers to defend its blatantly unconstitutional gun ban against a court challenge by six law-abiding residents who merely want to have a gun at home to defend themselves and their families should the need arise.
The district's firearms ban was hatched in the 1970s in response to urban violence that swept the nation a decade earlier. Not only did the 1976 law bar possession of handguns not registered before that date, it also requires shotguns and rifles in the home to be kept unloaded and either disassembled or trigger-locked at all times. There is no exception for self-defense, and the district has repeatedly prosecuted people who used prohibited firearms in otherwise lawful acts of self-defense.
Notwithstanding its ban, the district consistently ranks among the deadliest cities in America, frequently earning the title of "nation's murder capital" and periodically announcing "crime emergencies" that the city's leaders seem powerless to stop. By contrast, Vermont, which has no gun laws to speak of, is among the least-violent states in the nation. Nationally, gun bans and similar restrictions have been utterly ineffective in reducing crime. The Centers for Disease Control and the National Academy of Sciences conducted exhaustive studies and could not identify a single gun-control provision that had a meaningful impact on gun violence. Perhaps that's why no state in the country bans home possession of handguns -- let alone all functional firearms -- like Washington, D.C., does.
Incredibly, the same city that disarms its citizens and deprives them of the ability to defend themselves rejects any legal duty to protect them from crime. In a series of cases going back to Warren vs. District of Columbia in 1981, the district has repeatedly and successfully argued in court that it has no duty to protect its citizens against violent criminals and that no amount of negligence in doing so (or failing to do so) can ever expose the city to legal liability. In Greek tragedy, this is called "hubris." Another word is hypocrisy.
The district's attempt to defend the constitutionality of its gun ban in court has been equally deplorable. Displaying a "win at all costs" mentality, the city's lawyers claim first that the Second Amendment merely protects the right of states to arm their own militias; second, that even if the Second Amendment does protect an individual right to keep and bear arms, it does not apply in the District of Columbia; and third, whatever the Second Amendment means, the district's functional firearms ban doesn't violate it. But those arguments have no basis in the history, text or historical understanding of the Second Amendment, and the federal appellate court in Washington, D.C., rejected all of them in a careful and scholarly opinion last March.
The truth is that the Second Amendment means what it says: It protects the right of "the people" -- the same "people" mentioned in the First, Fourth, Ninth and Tenth Amendments -- to keep guns in their homes for lawful self-defense. Of course, it is hardly surprising that the framers of the Constitution went out of their way to protect that right. The Revolutionary War was caused in part by British attempts to disarm the colonists, whose familiarity with and private ownership of firearms helped win the war.
Protecting the freedoms for which generations of Americans have laid down their lives is among the Supreme Court's most-sacred duties. The ability to have a gun at home to defend oneself and one's family -- particularly in a city that disavows any legal duty to do so itself -- is surely one of those rights.
Clark Neily is an attorney who represents the individuals challenging the District of Columbia gun ban.