A District of Columbia gun-control law struck down by a federal court has won surprise support from the Bush administration.
On Friday, U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement urged the Supreme Court to rule that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is not absolute and is limited and subject to "reasonable regulation" by the government and that all federal restrictions on firearms should be upheld, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In his brief, Clement stated that such reasonable regulations include the federal ban on machine guns and other "particularly dangerous types of firearms," and that the government forbids gun possession by felons, drug users, "mental defectives" and people subject to restraining orders.
"Given the unquestionable threat to public safety that unrestricted private firearm possession would entail, various categories of firearm-related regulation are permitted by the Second Amendment," Clement said in his filing concerning the District's ban on keeping handguns at home for self-defense, which a federal court has ruled violates the Second Amendment.
Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence, told the Times he saluted the administration for recognizing a need for limits on gun rights. Alan Gura, a key gun-rights advocate leading the challenge to the District of Columbia's gun law, said he was disappointed over the administration's position, adding that he was troubled that Clement advised the justices to send the case back for further hearings in a lower court.
"We are not happy. We are very disappointed the administration is hostile to individual rights. This is definitely hostile to our position," Gura said.
The Times noted that later this year the Supreme Court is expected to "rule squarely on whether the Second Amendment gives individuals a right to have a gun despite laws or ordinances restricting firearms."
That amendment provides that "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." Pro-gun-control groups insist that that the law applies to militias, such as the national guard, and not individuals.
In the case now before the court, the constitutionality of the District of Columbia's ordinance is at issue. Clement in his brief agreed that the Second Amendment "protects an individual right to possess firearms, including for private purposes unrelated to militia operations," and contends that D.C.'s ban on handguns goes too far and is probably unconstitutional.
He cautioned, however, that the court should move cautiously and make clear that the Second Amendment does not threaten most current restrictions on guns and gun owners, and said the court should stop short of striking down the D.C. ordinance on its own, and that the case should be sent back to a trial judge, the Times reported.
"The D.C. ban may well fail constitutional scrutiny," he said, because it totally forbids private citizens from having a handgun at home. Such a ruling however, should not threaten other laws, he said. "Nothing in the Second Amendment properly understood . . . calls for invalidation of the numerous federal laws regulating firearms."
The court will hear arguments in the D.C. case in late March.
In another development, President Bush signed the nation's first new gun-control legislation in 14 years on Saturday to help keep guns out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill. The law appropriates $250 million a year for states and their courts to computerize their records on mentally ill people and forward the information to to the FBI for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to prevent anyone who is seriously mentally ill, a criminal or who has a restraining order against them for domestic violence from buying a gun.
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