A woman who lives in fear in a high-crime neighborhood, a security guard who wants to protect his home and a homosexual who says he has been threatened on the street are part of a lawsuit seeking to overturn the District's restrictive gun laws. Top Stories
"We're not bad or dangerous people," said plaintiff Tom G. Palmer, who lives in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. "We just want to be able to defend ourselves against an intruder, a rapist, a gay basher or just a run-of-the-mill mugger or murderer."
The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, targets the District's ban on handguns — one of the strictest in the nation — as a violation of residents' rights under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The Bush administration argued to the Supreme Court in May that it believes the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to own a handgun, "subject to reasonable restrictions."
The Second Amendment states: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
Since 1939, courts have ruled that the Second Amendment refers only to members of a state militia, such as the National Guard. Possession of a handgun or a loaded firearm in one's home has been illegal in the District since 1976.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams' office said the city would not budge.
"The last thing this city needs is more handguns," spokesman Tony Bullock said. "You're not going to see any will on the part of this mayor to relax the gun laws in the District."
Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, the District's deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said Mr. Williams would instruct the city's corporation counsel to object to the lawsuit.
"The mayor's policy is very clear," Mrs. Kellems said. "He does not support abolition of our very strict gun-control laws. Gun ownership is not a means to control crime, and it's not a good thing for the city and its social structure."
A team of four lawyers, two of whom work for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, argue in the lawsuit that D.C. residents should be able to defend themselves from crime.
"It's unreasonable to insist that citizens put their lives in the hands of the D.C. government," said Mr. Palmer, adding that he had been assaulted and beaten several times because of his homosexuality.
Mr. Palmer, 46, a political-science researcher, said that several years ago he and a friend were chased by a group of some 20 young men at night.
The men threatened to kill Mr. Palmer and his friend, telling them that their bodies would not be found. Mr. Palmer said he stymied his assailants by pulling out a 9 mm handgun.
"The presence of a weapon changes a situation dramatically, and suddenly people who are full of bravado are brought up short. It's not very fun when the prey can fight back," Mr. Palmer said.
Shelley Parker lives just below the Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast, the site of one of the worst gang rivalries in the District and part of Police District 5. District 5 has had the most homicides during the past two years in the city, with 113. District 2 in Northwest has reported six homicides.
Ms. Parker, according to the lawsuit, has been threatened by drug dealers. She wants to own a handgun for her protection, but she "fears arrest, criminal prosecution, incarceration and fine if she were to possess a functional handgun within her home," the lawsuit states.
Ownership or possession of a handgun is a misdemeanor. It carries a penalty of a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. On a second offense, it is a felony, punishable by five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
"We have to maintain the deterrent effect of the gun laws," Mr. Bullock said.
"I think it's a real myth that people would be able to arm themselves and avoid being shot," he said. "Chances are very good that they would accidentally shoot themselves or that the gun would find its way into the hands of a child, which is not what we want."
Another plaintiff is a security guard who is licensed to carry a handgun at work at the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Center, a federal judiciary building. Dick Heller, a resident of Southeast, wants to keep a handgun in his home, but the city has refused his application.
"I'm able to protect people's lives at work, but I'm not allowed to go home, where there are open-air drug markets, and defend myself," Mr. Heller said.
Gene Healy, one of the Cato Institute lawyers working pro bono on the lawsuit, said, "We want a declaratory judgment saying that the District's policies as embodied in the code and as enforced violate the Second Amendment," Mr. Healy said.
He said the last time the D.C. gun ban was challenged was in the mid-1980s. It failed in the D.C. Court of Appeals.
"We think the legal environment is different now, because legal scholars recognize that the Second Amendment means what is says," he said.
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, U.S. District judge for the District of Columbia, is to review and rule on the lawsuit.