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    Mar 19, 2008
    The Firearms Column

    by Robert Kyle
    While America awaits the decision from the Supreme Court of the United States about whether Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban violates the Second Amendment, we'll take advantage of the legal cease-fire to have a closer look at this landmark case.
    By the time the Supreme Court heard District of Columbia v. Heller on March 18, the case had been in the works for six years. It was not initiated by the NRA (National Rifle Association) or the six plaintiffs but by a businessman, lawyer, and private citizen who said he has never owned a gun.
    The man on the brink of making history is Robert A. Levy, 66. Born in D.C. to a family that ran a hardware store, Levy received his Ph.D. in business from American University in 1966. He moved to nearby Silver Spring, Maryland, and started CDA Investment Technologies out of his home. He reported on performances of securities, money managers, and institutional portfolios. By 1986 he had offices all over the world. A Dutch company offered him a small fortune, and Levy sold.
    In a March 18, 2007, article in the Washington Post, Levy said, "Selling it allowed me to pursue whatever new opportunities I wanted to pursue without any financial pressures at all."
    Rather than retire and travel the globe, Levy sought another challenge. In 1991 at age 49, he enrolled in the George Mason University School of Law. He graduated in 1994. In 1997 he was hired as a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. Levy had been one of its regular donors.
    Founded in 1977, the Cato Institute is a nonprofit public policy research foundation. It draws its name from "Cato's Letters," a series of libertarian pamphlets that helped lay the philosophical groundwork for the American Revolution. Today, Cato still attracts revolutionaries. The current cadre uses legal briefs and lawsuits instead of muskets and cannons to affect change. The mission, according to its Web site (, is to "allow consideration of the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets and peace."
    Robert Levy saw too much government and too little individual freedom in D.C.'s Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975 that bans handguns and allows long guns only by permit. Rifles and shotguns must be disassembled, unloaded, and have trigger locks. Levy didn't see all those peculiar conditions in the Second Amendment. He read it simply as "the right of the people to keep and bear arms."
    Levy decided to sue the District of Columbia government, but not on behalf of himself. He told the Washington Post, "I don't actually want a gun," and "I'm not a member of any of those pro-gun groups." He wanted to represent regular citizens who felt their right of self-defense at home was deprived under D.C. law.
    Levy found a worthy plaintiff in another senior fellow at Cato, Tom G. Palmer (born 1956). He holds a doctorate degree in politics from Oxford University in England. He is also gay.
    "I was contacted by an acquaintance who knew of my own experience and said some plaintiffs were filing a suit and would I be interested," Palmer told me in an e-mail.
    The experience he refers to occurred in 1983. Palmer and a friend were confronted by a group of about 20 young men on a secluded street in San Jose, California. "They shouted anti-gay epithets and they made death threats," Palmer stated in a March 2007 Washington Blade newspaper interview. "We ran and they chased us." With certain injury or death a real possibility, Palmer bravely stopped to face the mob. He also pulled out his legal-to-carry 9 mm semiautomatic. The gang backed down and dispersed. Palmer wants residents of D.C. to have the same option of self-preservation.
    Robert Levy and fellow attorney Clark M. Neily III rounded out their cast of six plaintiffs with average and diverse citizens. Shelly Parker is a woman who wanted a gun at home for self-defense, as did Tracey Ambeau and George Lyon. Gillian St. Lawrence owns a registered shotgun but would like to keep it assembled, unlocked, and ready to use if necessary. Dick Anthony Heller is an armed security guard at the Federal Judiciary Center. He applied for and was denied a permit to keep a handgun in his house.
    Levy hired D.C. attorney Alan Gura to try the case. Levy has stated that he is funding the entire litigation without financial help from Cato or anyone else. "Cato supports the objectives of the case and has filed a friend-of-the-court brief," Levy told me in an e-mail. "Cato is not directly involved in the litigation."
    The case Parker v. District of Columbia was filed on February 10, 2003, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit. The court dismissed it in October 2003, citing that none of the plaintiffs had standing; there was no actual or imminent harm by not having a gun.
    After this decision, the District of Columbia government thought Levy and his upstart rebels would simply go away. But like a citizen soldier militia waiting in ambush, Levy's Rangers launched a surprising counterattack by appealing the case and winning. After the case was argued again on December 7, 2006, the three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled on March 9, 2007, that the city's gun ban violates the Second Amendment by depriving an individual of the right to keep and bear arms. The vote was two to one. This court became the first in the nation to rule a firearms ban was an unconstitutional infringement of the Second Amendment.
    The court also concluded that one plaintiff-Dick Heller-did, in fact, have standing. The court wrote: "The denial of a gun license is significant; it constitutes an injury…." The name of the case was changed to District of Columbia v. Heller.
    District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty, an ardent anti-gun politician, asked the appeals court to hear the case again. It declined. On May 7, Fenty asked for a 90-day stay of mandate to buy some time. Facing the end of three decades of strict gun laws, Fenty had no choice other than to hope the Supreme Court sides with him. On September 4, 2007, he asked the court to reverse the federal appellate court decision.
    This was fine with Robert Levy and Alan Gura. They wanted the highest court in the land to decide on their case as well. On November 20, 2007, the Supreme Court announced it would hear the case. Alan Gura had four months to prepare for his first-ever appearance before the nine justices.
    Following the spirited oral arguments on March 18, 2008, Levy's Rangers sensed the tide was turning. Outside the Supreme Court, in front of a wall of microphones, a somber Mayor Fenty and Chief of Police Cathy L. Lanier tried to look positive. Fenty repeated his mantra that more guns in the city will lead to more crime. "This is a public safety issue," he said.
    A few days later, in an act of a desperate man running out of options, Fenty announced that on March 24, in selected neighborhoods, D.C. police would go door to door asking permission to enter houses to search for guns. Amnesty would be granted if illegal guns were found.
    This didn't sit too well with most folks. Residents complained. Former D.C. mayor Marion Barry objected, claiming it violated the Fourth Amendment protection from illegal search and seizure. Bloggers compared it with wartime Nazi gun confiscation. The ACLU arrived with bullhorns and signs, reminding people of their rights. It handed out window signs that read, "To the Police: No Consent to Search Our Home."
    Facing the barrage of public criticism, the police backed down, not searching a single home on March 24. On April 3 Chief Lanier announced gun searches would be conducted "by appointment only" beginning in mid-June.
    The day after the Supreme Court heard the case, the Washington Post reported Fenty's folly might be finished. "Justices Appear Skeptical of D.C.'s Handgun Ban," a headline read. The article began:
    "A majority of the Supreme Court indicated a readiness yesterday to settle decades of constitutional debate over the meaning of the Second Amendment by declaring that it provides an individual right to own a gun for self-defense.
    "Such a finding could doom the District of Columbia's ban on private handgun possession, the country's toughest gun control law, and significantly change the tone and direction of the nation's political battles over gun control."
    ( The rest of the story removed To be under 1000 words) use link at top for full story
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