Some Washington, D.C. gun laws quashed by federal court

By Sam Hananel
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. appeals court recently struck down as unconstitutional several strict gun registration laws in Washington, but upheld other restrictions aimed at public safety.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2-1 last Friday that the city cannot ban gun owners from registering more than one pistol per month or require owners to re-register a gun every three years. The court also invalidated requirements that owners make a personal appearance to register a gun and pass a test about firearms laws.

But the court upheld other parts of the law, such as requiring that so-called long guns — including rifles and shotguns — be registered along with handguns. The ruling also allows gun owners to be fingerprinted and photographed, pay certain fees and complete a firearms safety training course. In all, the court upheld six gun laws and struck down four.

Only six states and Washington require gun owners to register some or all firearms, according to the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Washington is one of only a few places — including Hawaii and California — that also have registration requirements for rifles and shotguns.

The Washington capital district put the registration laws in place after a landmark 2008 Supreme Court decision that struck down a 32-year-old handgun ban in the city. The high court ruled in that case the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment protects handgun possession for self-defense in the home.

A federal judge had previously upheld all the new registration laws, considered among the strictest in the U.S.

Washington city officials argued that the laws were aimed at preserving gun owners’ constitutional rights while also protecting the community from gun violence.

Washington Attorney General Karl Racine said his office would consider its options to restore the gun laws, including requesting a hearing before the full appeals court.

Racine and District Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said they were pleased that the court upheld the city’s core gun registration requirement.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city should be free to pass laws with “reasonable restrictions” on gun ownership in their city.

The National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby, noted that the ruling “did not totally invalidate D.C.’s onerous registration regime,” and said the decision “is an important step in bringing gun ownership within reach to more of D.C.’s upstanding residents.”

Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA Law School, said that while the ruling may be a setback for Washington it shows that courts are willing to uphold some restrictions on gun owners that enhance public safety.