Plaintiffs who have been waiting since 2009 for a decision in a lawsuit challenging Washington, D.C.'s ban on carrying handguns for self-defense have filed a petition asking for a ruling.
"We realize this is a difficult step to take," said Alan Gottlieb, executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation, "but this case has been languishing for 1,475 days and counting since it was ready for decision."
He pointed to a previous case litigated by his organization, Moore v. Madigan, which challenged the carry ban in Illinois. The trial court took 172 days to rule, he noted, and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals took 202 days.
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"We have been waiting well over four years for a decision in the Palmer case, which was filed in August 2009, and waiting four more is not an option," he said.
The petition, filed in the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, contends the federal court's failure to decide the case "acts as a sort of decision in and of itself."
"Justice interminably delayed is justice denied. If petitioners are forbidden from exercising a constitutional right, and the district court never rules on their challenge to that prohibition, the right is lost," the petition says.
"SAF reluctantly took this step," Gottlieb explained, "because we simply cannot allow our case to lie around gathering dust. We are hopeful the court of appeals compels a swift ruling by the district court so that we can move on with this case, if that becomes necessary."
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For years, the District of Columbia essentially banned operational weapons, even to the point of banning residents from owning handguns.
The D.C. law was overturned in the famous 2008 Heller case in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guards the individual right to have a firearm for lawful purposes, including self-defense.
The decision was followed by the McDonald case out of Chicago, in which the high court applied Second Amendment rights beyond federal enclaves to the states.
But neither case addressed the issue of carrying handguns for self-protection, only the possession of guns in homes for self-defense.
The case at issue now, Palmer v. District of Columbia, asserts people should have the right to defend themselves outside the home.
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The court's latest action in the case came in 2011, when it was assigned to a new judge.
The case comes on behalf of Tom Palmer, George Lyon, Edward Raymond and Amy McVey against the District of Columbia and its police chief, Cathy Lanier.
The case argues that the Second Amendment guarantees that individuals have a right to carry functional handguns in non-sensitive public places for purposes of self-defense.
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."
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The lawusuit does not ask Washington to give up the ability to regulate the manner of carrying handguns or stop prohibiting them in sensitive places. Nor does it ask the district to stop disqualifying dangerous individuals.
But it argues: "The District of Columbia may not completely ban the carrying of handguns for self-defense, deny individuals the right to carry handguns in non-sensitive places, deprive individuals of the right to carry handguns in an arbitrary and capricious manner, or impose regulations on the right to carry handguns that are inconsistent with the 2nd Amendment."
Ordinary provisions in other locales require that those who carry guns pass a background check or complete a gun safety course, or both.
"Numerous states license the carrying of handguns by non-residents and almost all states recognize at least some permits to carry handguns issued by other states. In some states, a license to carry a handgun is required only if the handgun is concealed," the claim argues.
The D.C. law states that no one shall possess or control any firearm with the exceptions of police officers, retired police officers or any person wanting a handgun "for use in self-defense within that person's home."
No carry is allowed, the claim states. In fact, at the time of the lawsuit's filing, there was no "mechanism to issue handgun carry licenses to individuals."
Palmer, who previously defended himself in another location using a gun against a gang of men who chased him uttering death threats, wants to protect himself in Washington, but is unable, the case claims.
"Plaintiff George Lyon would carry a functional handgun in public for self-defense, but refrains from doing so because he fears arrest, prosecution, fine, and imprisonment as he does not possess a license to carry a handgun in Washington, D.C. Lyon is licensed to carry handguns by the states of Virginia, Utah, and Florida. He has approximately 240 hours of firearms training, of which approximately 140 hours relate specifically to handguns," it explains.
"By requiring a permit to carry a handgun in public, yet refusing to issue such permits and refusing to allow the possession of any handgun that would be carried in public, defendants maintain a complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public by almost all individuals."
The petition for a ruling states: "Win or lose, petitioners are entitled to a resolution of this important case – and to an appeal. Because the district court's failure to decide the case impedes this court's appellate jurisdiction, because the delay in resolving this priority civil rights case is extreme, because no reason exists to believe an opinion will issue within another four years absent this court's intervention, and because petitioners lack any other remedy, a writ of mandamus should issue directing the district court to forthwith produce an appealable order with a sufficiently elaborated opinion. petitioners respectfully submit that seven days would suffice."
SAF also has worked to publicize the details behind New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's "Mayors Against Illegal Guns" organization, which was revealed to include a long list of mayors who, because of their convictions, were no longer eligible to own weapons themselves.
Another embarrassment surfaced for the organization.
According to a report from the Second Amendment Foundation, Mayor James Schiliro of Marcus Hook, Pa., faced a long list of charges for allegedly trying to force an underage boy to perform sex acts and then firing a handgun at a wall when the boy refused.
"Mayor Schiliro is one more example of why we started the 'Gun Owners Against Illegal Mayors' campaign," said Gottlieb. "He joins recently convicted former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and recently indicted former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, both of whom were MAIG members."
SAF launched its campaign last fall, and "the list keeps growing," Gottlieb said.
The mayors' group boasts that it has grown to more than 725 mayors in 40 states. But SAF is publicizing mayors who have run into their own troubles.
It launched its campaign in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet, revealing the criminal and ethical wrongdoings of many of the mayors themselves.
The organization also has been acting largely under the radar to fight unconstitutional firearms restrictions across the nation. Recently, it won its request for preliminary injunction from District Judge M. Christina Armijo in New Mexico, who took action in the case of John Jackson, a permanent legal resident alien who could not obtain a concealed carry permit in the state.
The organization also announced it has filed a motion for injunctive relief in a related case in Nebraska. There, non-citizens legally living in the state are prohibited from obtaining a concealed-carry permit.
Another recent battle for SAF was in Alameda County, Calif., which changed its rules as three businessmen were trying to open a gun shop. The foundation successfully sued the county for violating the constitutional rights of three businessmen by wrongfully denying them permits to open a gun shop.
The foundation also recently argued a pair of California cities and the state's Department of Justice improperly confiscated firearms during investigations and then refused to return them to their owners, even after the subjects of the inquiries were cleared.
Other cases SAF has handled recently:
- SAF sued the state of California over a "vague" gun ban under which a man twice was jailed and then cleared. The case centers on the definition of an "assault weapon." The statute's definition of weapons is so "vague and ambiguous," the group contends, that one man was arrested on two different occasions for violations but ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing. "It's an insult to be arrested once for violating a law that is so vague and ambiguous that law enforcement officers cannot tell the difference between what is and what is not a legal firearm under this statute," said Gottlieb, "but to be arrested and jailed twice for the same offense is an outrage."
- In New York, the organization has asked for a summary judgment that would strike New York City's $340 triennial fee to own a handgun. The legal brief explains that under U.S. Supreme Court rulings, "the right to keep a handgun in the home for self-defense is a part of the 'core' of the Second Amendment's protections." The case, brought the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association and individuals including an electrical contractor, a paramedic, CPA and woodworker, argues the city's $340 fee "is inherently prohibitive and serves the impermissible purpose of discouraging the exercise of constitutional rights. While the city can charge a nominal fee to defray costs, the $340 fee is not nominal, and has never been calculated to defray costs."
- The organization has sued New Jersey and officials and judges over procedures that allowed them to refuse firearms permits for a kidnap victim, a man who carries large amounts of cash for his business and a civilian FBI employee who fears attacks from radical Muslims. The permissions were denied on the grounds people had not shown a "justifiable need." "Law-abiding New Jersey citizens have been arbitrarily deprived of their ability to defend themselves and their families for years under the state's horribly crafted laws," said an SAF spokesman. "The law grants uncontrolled discretion to police chiefs and other public officials to deny license applications even in cases where the applicant has shown a clear and present danger exists."
- SAF filed a case on behalf of an honorably discharged veteran from the Vietnam War that names as defendants Attorney General Eric Holder and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of Jefferson Wayne Schrader. The question is whether the state of Maryland can deprive an individual of the right to possess a weapon over a misdemeanor. Schrader had been convicted of misdemeanor assault relating to a fight involving a man who previously had assaulted him in Annapolis. But he was denied the opportunity to receive a shotgun as a gift or to purchase a handgun for personal protection.
- SAF filed a claim against Maryland for a man who alleged the state was violating the Second Amendment by refusing to renew his handgun permit. Raymond Woollard originally was issued a carry permit after a man broke into his home during a family event in 2002. Woollard's permit was renewed in 2005 after the defendant in the case was released from prison. But state officials later refused to renew the permit, even though the intruder now lives some three miles from Woollard.
- SAF sued Westchester County, N.Y., because officials there were requiring that residents have a "good cause" to ask for a handgun permit. The federal lawsuit alleges the requirement conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the Second Amendment establishes a personal right to "keep and bear arms." Individual plaintiffs in the case are Alan Kachalsky and Christina Nikolov, both Westchester County residents whose permit applications were denied.