(Released May 2007)
For years, Shelly Parker faced intimidation and harassment from the drug dealers and gang-bangers who roamed her neighborhood. Already frustrated because the police never did enough to make her feel truly safe, she was further dismayed by the fact that she could not own a gun to protect herself.
Parker is a resident of Washington, D.C., where gun ownership has been a crime.
Unwilling to just give up, Parker’s tenacity resulted in action that may mean Washingtonians can exercise their constitutional right to own a gun for the first time in over 30 years.
In 2003, Parker and five other D.C. residents filed suit for the right to defend themselves by having serviceable guns in their homes. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in their favor in March, saying that “the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms.” Unsuprisingly, the city’s attorneys are appealing the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a final ruling in Parker v. District of Columbia could have profound national implications on statist government regulations that degrade citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
Since 1976, the ownership of almost all firearms has been illegal in America’s capital city. The first offense for handgun possession is a misdemeanor charge carrying a penalty of imprisonment for up to one year and a $1,000 fine. A second offense is a felony that could lead to up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Trapped between the street thugs and a government opposed to individual rights, Parker was essentially in a no-win situation: illegally own a gun and face possible prosecution or risk being a victim.
Even before they were completely banned, the District of Columbia’s open hostility toward the Second Amendment was evident. For example, registered handguns prior to 1976 were not allowed to be carried from one room to another within the same home unless the gun owner had a license for each room. Shotguns or rifles had to be unloaded and either unassembled or trigger-locked.
But the situation was simple to Parker’s lawyers: Alan Gura, Clark Neily III and Robert Levy of the libertarian Cato Institute. Levy noted: “Killers who are not deterred by laws against murder are not going to be deterred by laws against guns. Anti-gun regulations don’t address the deep-rooted causes of violent crime – such as illegitimacy, unemployment, dysfunctional schools and drug and alcohol abuse. The cures are complex and protracted. But that doesn’t mean we have to become passive prey for criminal predators. Americans who want to defend themselves by possessing suitable firearms should be able to do so.”
Besides violating the Second Amendment, D.C.’s gun ban is a violation of the fundamental rationale of law. In The Law, noted political theorist Frederic Bastiat wrote: “It is evident, then, that the proper purpose of law is to use the power of its collective force to stop this fatal tendency to plunder instead of to work. All the measures of the law should protect property and punish plunder.” D.C. promotes the opposite, effectively protecting the plunderer and punishing the property owner.
Looters, for example, know it’s easier to steal another man’s property than to earn their own. When government can’t perform a basic function like protection, it’s naturally up to the citizens to defend their property. The duty becomes harder when the property owner is hobbled by things like Washington’s ban on gun ownership.
Research shows that law-abiding citizens using firearms for protection can save lives and deter crimes. In Armed: New Perspectives on Gun Control, co-authors Gary Kleck and Don Kates note that “as many as 2.5 million victims use guns to defend against crime each year” and “handguns are actually used by victims to repel crime far more often than they are by criminals in committing crimes – as much as three times more.”
Besides the court’s ruling that D.C.’s gun ban is unconstitutional, it’s also immoral to deny law-abiding citizens the right to legally possess a firearm – especially within crime-infested neighborhoods. The government should understand what the criminal knows: unarmed citizens are easy prey.
Consider the recent deaths at Virginia Tech. What if one of the victims had a gun of their own on their person? Although Virginia allows approved and registered citizens to carry concealed firearms, the school itself will not allow it on campus.
It was the intent of our Founding Fathers to liberate us from statist governments and monarchies. The verdict to end the District’s gun ban is a refreshing first step towards such liberation and restoring power to the people in a dangerous world.